Modifications in Department of Homeland Security and Department of State Immigration Services Due to COVID-19
Last updated March 20, 2020
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (“USCIS”) and the U.S. Department of State (“DOS”) have announced changes to their services and rules in light of COVID-19.
DHS Announces Flexibility in Requirements Related to Form I-9 Compliance
DHS announced March 20th that, due to precautions being implemented by employers and employees related to physical proximity associated with COVID-19, it will exercise discretion to defer the physical presence requirements associated with Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9) under Section 274A of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Under these allowances, employers may inspect Section 2 documents remotely (e.g. over video link, fax or email, etc.) and obtain, inspect and retain copies of the documents, within three business days for purposes of completing Section 2. It is stated that employers should enter “COVID-19” as the reason for the physical inspection delay in the Section 2 Additional Information field once physical inspection takes place after normal operations resume. Once the documents have been physically inspected, the employer should add “documents physically examined” with the date of inspection to the Section 2 additional information field on the Form I-9, or to section 3 as appropriate. DHS stated that these provisions may be implemented by employers for a period of 60 days from March 20th, or within 3 business days after the termination of the National Emergency, whichever comes first.
DHS further states that Employers who avail themselves of this option must provide written documentation of their remote onboarding and telework policy for each employee. This burden rests solely with the employers. Once normal operations resume, all employees who were onboarded using remote verification, must report to their employer within three business days for in-person verification of identity and employment eligibility documentation for Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. Once the documents have been physically inspected, the employer should add “documents physically examined” with the date of inspection to the Section 2 additional information field on the Form I-9, or to section 3 as appropriate. Any audit of subsequent Forms I-9 would use the “in-person completed date” as a starting point for these employees only.
DHS states that this provision only applies to employers and workplaces that are operating remotely. If there are employees physically present at a work location, no exceptions are being implemented at this time for in-person verification of identity and employment eligibility documentation for Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. However, if newly hired employees or existing employees are subject to COVID-19 quarantine or lockdown protocols, DHS will evaluate this on a case-by-case basis. Additionally, employers may designate an authorized representative to act on their behalf to complete Section 2. An authorized representative can be any person the employer designates to complete and sign Form I-9 on their behalf. The employer is liable for any violations in connection with the form or the verification process, including any violations in connection with the form or the verification process, including any violations of the employer sanctions laws committed by the person designated to act on the employer’s behalf.”
USCIS Announces Closure of In-Person Services, Closure of Premium Processing, Flexibility in Submitting Required Signatures
United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (“USCIS”) announced on March 18 that all routine in-person services are suspended until at least April 1 to help slow the spread of COVID-19. This suspension includes all interviews and naturalization ceremonies, and applies to all field offices, asylum offices and Application Support Centers. This suspension also applies to biometrics appointments at Application Support Centers. Employees will continue to work on services that do not require face-to-face contact with the public.
USCIS domestic field offices will send notices to applicants and petitioners with scheduled appointments and naturalization ceremonies impacted by this closure. USCIS asylum offices will send interview cancellation notices and automatically reschedule asylum interviews. When the interview is rescheduled, asylum applicants will receive a new interview notice with the new time, date and location for the interview. When USCIS again resumes normal operations, USCIS will automatically reschedule Application Support Center appointments due to the office closure. You will receive a new appointment letter in the mail. Individuals who had InfoPass or other appointments at the field office must reschedule through the USCIS Contact Center, once field offices reopen to the public. Please check the USCIS Field Offices page to see if your field office has reopened before reaching out to the USCIS Contact Center.
On March 20th, USCIS also announced that, effective immediately, no new requests for Premium Processing would be accepted. USCIS will continue to process any petition with a previously accepted Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, in accordance with the premium processing service criteria. USCIS stated that the public will be notified with a confirmed date for resuming premium processing.
USCIS also announced that they will accept all benefit forms and documents with “reproduced original signatures” for submissions dated March 21, 2020 and beyond. This temporary change will allow clients to scan signed forms to counsel, rather than transmitting original documents. Individuals or entities that submit documents bearing an electronically reproduced original signature must also retain copies of the original copies of the original documents containing the “wet ink” signature.
U.S. Department of State Announces Suspension of Routine Visa Services
The U.S. Department of State (DOS) announced on March 20th that, effective immediately, it is temporarily suspending routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates. Embassies and consulates will cancel all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments. As resources allow, embassies and consulates will continue to provide urgent and emergency visa services. DOS states that routine visa services will resume as soon as possible.
CSG will continue to closely monitor U.S. immigration changes during the COVID-19 response and will provide updates as the situation evolves. Please contact immigration counsel at CSG if you have any further questions.
For additional information pertaining to the coronavirus outbreak, please visit CSG's COVID-19 Resource Center.
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