COVID-19 SPURS USCIS OFFICE CLOSURE, FORMS’ FLEXIBILITY
This month, we focus on three items of interest in light of the current health emergency. Please stay safe.
USCIS offices close
On March 18, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) temporarily suspended routine in-person services to help slow the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). USCIS plans to re-open our offices on April 7, unless the public closures are extended further. USCIS staff are continuing to perform duties that do not involve contact with the public. However, USCIS will provide emergency services for limited situations.
USCIS domestic field offices will send notices to applicants and petitioners with scheduled appointments and naturalization ceremonies impacted by this temporary 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. New appointment letters will be sent by mail. Individuals who had InfoPass or other appointments at the field office must reschedule once field offices reopen to the public.
Please visit the USCIS official website for the latest information: uscis.gov/coronavirus.
Signature flexibility – No need to submit forms with original signatures
USCIS announced that, due to the ongoing COVID-19 National Emergency announced by President Trump on March 13, all benefit forms and documents will be accepted with reproduced original signatures, including the Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, for submissions dated March 21, 2020, and beyond.
USCIS already accepts various petitions, applications and other documents bearing an electronically reproduced original signature. 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. For forms that require an original “wet” signature, per form instructions, USCIS will accept electronically reproduced original signatures for the duration of the National Emergency. This temporary change only applies to signatures. All other form instructions should be followed when completing a form.
Individuals or entities that submit documents bearing an electronically reproduced original signature must also retain copies of the original documents containing the “wet” signature. USCIS may, at any time, request the original documents, which if not produced, could negatively impact the adjudication of the immigration benefit.
Flexibility with I-9 forms
Due to precautions being implemented by employers and employees related to physical proximity associated with COVID-19, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on March 20, that it will exercise discretion to defer the physical presence requirements associated with Employment Eligibility Verification and the Form I-9.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) requires employers to verify the identity and employment eligibility of all individuals hired in the United States after November 6, 1986. The Form I-9 is the means of documenting this verification. Generally, this verification process requires the employers or authorized representatives to physically examine, with the employee being physically present, each document presented to determine if it reasonably appears to be genuine and relates to the employee presenting it. The DHS announcement discussed below governs this requirement in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Employers with employees taking physical proximity precautions due to COVID-19 will not be required to review the employee’s identity and employment authorization documents in the employee’s physical presence. However, employers must follow special requirements which are available at: https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/dhs-announces-flexibility-requirements-related-form-i-9-compliance#wcm-survey-target-id
Dilip Patel of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC, a board-certified expert on immigration law, can be reached at (813) 222-1120 or email email@example.com