Update regarding Coronavirus’ impact on immigration-related matters

There have been more than 267,000 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) worldwide, including at least 15,200 in the U.S., as of Sunday, March 22, according to the World Health Organization , which officially declared the outbreak a pandemic earlier this month.

Below are the latest updates regarding the Coronavirus and its impacts on immigration-related matters:

Department of State suspends routine visa services at all embassies and consulates

The Department of State (DOS) announced late last week it was suspending routine visa services at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide because of the Coronavirus pandemic. This measure includes cancelling all immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments.

Services to U.S. citizens remain available while "emergency and mission critical visa services" will also continue to be provided.

"Our overseas missions will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time," a statement from the DOS read, in part.

Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm continues to monitor the situation closely. Our attorneys are actively identifying impacted cases and strategies and advising our clients accordingly.

USCIS accepting scanned signatures for all benefit forms and documents

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has begun accepting benefit forms and documents with reproduced original signatures, including the Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, for submissions dated after March 20.

"This means that a document may be scanned, faxed, photocopied, or similarly reproduced provided that the copy must be of an original document containing an original handwritten signature, unless otherwise specified," a statement from USCIS read. "...This temporary change only applies to signatures. All other form instructions should be followed."

The teams at Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm are actively working to implement such procedure and will instruct clients accordingly. When requested, those with affected cases may be instructed to send Garfinkel Immigration scanned copies of forms containing an original signature. We recommend retaining the original signed document(s) for your records, in case they are needed by USCIS.

USCIS temporarily suspends premium processing for Form I-129 and I-140 petitions

USCIS has suspended premium processing for all Form I-129 and I-140 petitions "until further notice," the agency announced March 20.

This temporary suspension includes petitions filed for the following categories:

· I-129: E-1, E-2, H-1B, H-2B, H-3, L-1A, L-1B, LZ, O-1, O-2, P-1, P-1S, P-2, P-2S, P-3, P-3S, Q-1, R-1, TN-1 and TN-2

· I-140: EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3

USCIS previously announced the temporary suspension of premium processing for fiscal year (FY) 2021 cap-subject H-1B petitions.

READ THE FULL USCIS ANNOUNCEMENT

The U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico are closed for 'non-essential' travel

The U.S. border with Canada will temporarily close to "non-essential traffic" because of the Coronavirus outbreak, the two countries announced in mid-March.

Trade between the nations will not be impacted, according to U.S. President Donald Trump .

· Travel to Canada or the U.S. is not permitted for tourism or recreational purposes until the policy is lifted.

· American and Canadian citizens who cross the border daily, with a valid work permit/visa, will be permitted to continue to do so only for essential or "urgent" work (i.e., medical or airline); all other travel for work, across the border, is likely not permitted.

· Essential travel will continue to be permitted in order to not disrupt trade.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said at a press conference earlier this week that "supply chains, including trucking, will not be affected" by the new measure.

"Our governments recognize that we (must) preserve supply chains between both countries," Trudeau said. "These supply chains ensure that food, fuel and life-saving medicines reach people on both sides of the border."

Trump announced later in the month that the U.S. border with Mexico would also be closed for "non-essential travel." That measure took effect Saturday, March 21.

"These new rules and procedures will not impede lawful trade and commerce," Trump said.

Those restrictions do not apply to:

· American citizens

· Legal Permanent Residents (LPR)

· "Essential" workers, such as medical or airline workers

· Those traveling for medical/educational purposes

Individuals with legal work permits will likely be permitted to cross the border for urgent or essential work.

The Trump administration previously restricted travel to the U.S. from 26 European countries. The United Kingdom and Ireland were later added to that ban.

DHS enacts flexibility in requirements related to Form I-9 compliance

The Coronavirus epidemic has led the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to ease some "physical presence" requirements relating to Form I-9 compliance.

Employers "with employees taking physical proximity precautions due to COVID-19" will not be required to review employees' identity and employment authorization documents in person. Instead, employers can inspect and retain those forms via remote methods, which include a video link, fax or email, within three business days, for the purposes of completing Section 2 of the form.

The DHS measure applies only to "employers and workplaces that are operating remotely."

When such employers resume normal operations, 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. The employer must also note the delay in physical inspection by following the guidance from DHS and writing "COVID-19" in the Section 2 Additional Information field, along with "documents physically inspected" and the date of physical inspection.

The announcement confirmed that "any audit of subsequent Forms I-9 would use the 'in-person completed date' as a starting point for these employees only."

DHS confirmed that these provisions, allowing employers and new employees flexibility, may be implemented by employers for a period of 60 days from the date of the DHS notice (March 20, 2020), or within 3 business days after the termination of the National Emergency, whichever comes first. Read the full DHS statement here .

Both employers and employees whose status could be impacted by the pandemic should consult with experienced immigration counsel to evaluate their options before making any decisions regarding the Coronavirus and immigration-based matters.

As always, do not hesitate to call us at 704-442-8000 or contact us via email with any questions.

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