The state of immigration in the United States has changed due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. From a macro perspective, it is essentially a “tale of two cities”: you have immigration where the person seeking the immigration benefit is outside the U.S. and you have immigration where benefit is being sought by those in the U.S.
Recently, President Trump issued two executive orders on immigration affecting those outside the U.S. The first one was a two-month ban on the issuance of immigrant visas (given to people who will receive a green card when they arrive in the U.S.). This ban prevented green card seekers from entering the U.S., with a very limited list of exceptions (such as spouses and children of U.S. citizens, EB-5 investors or persons of national interest to the U.S.), unless they already had an immigrant visa prior to the order.
The second executive order extended the first through December 2020 and added a ban on the issuance of temporary H-1B/H-2B visas, L-1 visas and J-1 visas (interns, trainees, teachers, camp counselors, au pairs and summer work travel categories only) through December 2020. While these bans are in effect through the end of the year, they will most likely have little impact on someone starting the process right now due to the long processing times these types of cases have (much longer than the ban itself) unless the bans are extended further.
Immigration cases where the person seeking the immigration benefit is in the U.S has virtually been unchanged. The executive orders do not apply to individuals already in the U.S. The only effect COVID-19 has had is further delays of the final processing of immigration benefits that required in-person processing, such as a green card interview or a naturalization interview.
From a micro perspective, there have been a few major immigration developments. First, the effort to end DACA, a program that that allowed certain undocumented children who came to the U.S. as children to apply for a two-year forbearance from removal proceedings, was halted by the Supreme Court, opening the possibility of resumption of the program. Second, the public charge analysis and rules (required for temporary non-immigrant status and permanent residence) were revamped. Under the new rules and analysis, there is a greater and more difficult burden on the individual to establish that he or she will not become a public charge.
Finally, ICE announced temporary changes to the rules regarding studying in the United States. Students with F-1/M-1 status will not be allowed to stay in the U.S. if their school converts to a full online program during the pandemic. Where schools are operating under normal in-person class schedules, the foreign student can only take one online class. Where schools are employing the “hybrid” model of in-person and online, the foreign student can take the minimum number of online classes necessary to advance his or her degree but it cannot be completely online. This temporary rule goes into effect starting with the Fall Semester.
While the state of immigration has changed, the importance of having an experienced immigration attorney to guide you through the process has not.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.