A client called me from Saipan this week [the week of April 6], asking me whether he could still apply for a green card for his wife, because he had heard that immigration offices are closed due to COVID-19.

I advised him that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have been continuously adjudicating immigration petitions despite the closure of field offices across the country for in-person appointments. However, it would likely take much longer time for USCIS to adjudicate these cases due to many COVID-19-related emergency restrictions. 

Similar to most business operations, COVID-19 and the practice of social distancing have caused many challenges to immigration practices. Immigration offices and private law firms in Guam and Saipan are mostly closed, except for essential businesses in compliance with legally mandated activities. Due to the time-sensitive nature of many immigration needs and the often devastating consequences in failing to timely address these immigration needs, USCIS has made a series of adjustments in its practice to accommodate the difficulties brought up by the COVID-19 National Emergency in the filing and adjudication of immigration petitions and applications.

On March 20, USCIS announced flexibility in submitting required signatures during COVID-19 national emergency by waiving the requirement of original “wet” signatures on all benefit forms and documents including the popular Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker. Starting on March 21, USCIS began to accept immigration petitions, applications, and other documents bearing an electronically reproduced original signature by means of scanning, faxing, photocopying, or other similar methods.

On March 27, USCIS announced flexibility for requests for evidence and notices of intent to deny that were received between March 1 and May 1. USCIS will consider the submission of responses to such RFEs and NOIDs within 60 calendar days after the deadline set forth in the RFE or NOID. On March 30, such flexibility was extended to other notices such as notices of intent to revoke, notices of intent to terminate regional investment centers, as well as certain filing date requirements for Form I-290B, the Notice of Appeal or Motion.

On March 30, USCIS announced that it would reuse previously submitted biometric fingerprints in order to process Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization for extension of work authorization. 

In the meantime, USCIS also limited its service through the following announcements:

On March 18, USCIS temporarily suspended in-person services at its field offices, asylum offices, and Application Support Centers to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The temporary closure of these offices has been extended to May 3, announced by USCIS on April 1.

On March 27, USCIS temporarily suspended premium processing for all I-129 and I-140 petitions until further notice. The suspension of premium processing will significantly slow down the applications for nonimmigrant work visas such as E, H, L, O, P, Q, R as well as immigrant petitions in the categories of EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3.

COVID-19 will continue to impact immigration practice significantly until a cure is found. 

However, immigration does not have to wait for the pandemic to be over. We encourage our clients to plan ahead, to utilize the down time to better prepare the petitions and supporting documents, and to file for benefits as early as possible. In order to navigate the uncertainties caused by COVD-19, we advise clients to beware of fraudulent legal practice and seek advice from licensed immigration professionals. mbj


— Nelson J. Xu is a partner in the law firm of Baumann, Kondas and Xu LLC and specializes in business visas and family immigration. He may be contacted at [email protected].