The United States of America COVID- 19 Update

On 21 March, the US-Canada and US-Mexico land borders are temporarily closed, for an initial period of 30 days, for non-essential travel, by mutual decision. Cross-border trade and and regular commuters will not be blocked. Effective 21 March, USCIS will accept certain benefit forms (including Form I-129) and supporting documents with copies of original, “wet” signatures dated after 21 March will be accepted for the duration of the COVID-19 National Emergency. USCIS normally requires an original, handwritten signature on several documents, including the Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker. Allowing scans, photocopies, faxes or similar reproductions of the original document will reduce the required exchange of hard copy documents and support the telework arrangements currently being adopted by many employers. The original, signed documents must nevertheless be maintained as USCIS may request these at its discretion at any time during the adjudication of the case. Failure to produce the requested originals could “negatively impact the adjudication of the immigration benefit” which would cause a denial of the petition or application.

Effective 20 March, USCIS has suspended premium processing for Form I-129 and I-140 petitions, until further notice, for new requests. USCIS will process any petition with a previously accepted I-907 Request for Premium Processing Service application. Previously filed Forms I-129 or I-140s using premium processing that receive no action on their case within the 15 calendar-day period will receive a refund of the premium processing fee. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will temporarily defer the physical presence requirements associated with Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9) for employers who have transitioned to telework only for their workforce. This exception will not apply for employers for whom there are any employees physically present at a work location. This measure will be in place for the earlier of 60 days or 3 business days following the end of the National Emergency.

From the 18th of March, the US Department of State (DOS) suspended routine visa services in most countries until further notice. All routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments in most countries worldwide are cancelled. MRV fees remain valid for a visa appointment in the country where it was paid within one year of the date of payment.

Effective immediately until at least 1 April, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is suspending in-person services at its field offices, asylum offices and Application Support Centers (ASCs), but will provide limited emergency services. USCIS field offices will send notices to applicants and petitioners with scheduled appointments and naturalization ceremonies impacted by this closure. When USCIS again resumes normal operations, USCIS will automatically reschedule ASC appointments due to the office closure and send new appointment letters in the mail. Effective midnight EST on Monday 16 March (04:00 GMT Tuesday 17 March), the travel ban is extended to the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The president has announced the suspension of entry as immigrants and non-immigrants for travelers of any nationality who have been in the Schengen Area in the previous 14 days. This does not apply to US citizens or permanent residents (green card holders) or their family members, or to C (transit) or D (sea crewmember) non-immigrants. This proclamation does not apply to persons aboard a flight scheduled to arrive in the United States that departed prior to 13 March 2020. The president called it a 30-day travel ban in his speech, but the published presidential proclamation does not specify an end date for the suspension. Foreign nationals (other than immediate family of US citizens, permanent residents, and flight crew) who have traveled in mainland China within 14 days of their arrival, will be denied entry into the United States.

Those planning trips to the United States who are resident in China, have traveled to China recently or intend to travel to China before entering the US are advised to postpone their US visa interview until 14 days after their departure from China. US citizens who have been in Hubei province within 14 days of their return will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine. US citizens who have been in other areas of mainland China within 14 days of their return will undergo proactive entry health screening and up to 14 days of self-quarantine with health monitoring. Foreign nationals (other than immediate family of US citizens, permanent residents, and flight crew) who have traveled in Iran within 14 days of their arrival, will be denied entry into the United States.

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