COVID-19 has upended our modern world in ways that few could have predicted. Governments and businesses are racing to find solutions and respond to the pandemic. For many immigrants around the world, this virus has brought about an extra layer of uncertainty.
American employers with immigrant workers must develop a plan while maintaining existing immigration compliance. They will also need to stay up to date on the roll-out of new legislation.
Immigration During a Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting the legal immigration system of countries around the world. This immense uncertainty will undoubtedly hurt the business operations of any company that relies on the lawful employment of non-citizens.
Since government offices are closed, services such as in-person interviews and biometric appointments will be delayed. This means that decisions made by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and other immigration agencies will be on hold.
Maintenance of status will further be complicated, should the USCIS restrict the Premium Processing service. Also, requests for adjudication based on humanitarian or the grounds of national interest will likely be denied.
Reports from the US Consulates in Western Europe have confirmed that visa appointments scheduled for Mark and April are all being rescheduled for the second half of May.
Many workers and business visitors are finding that their nonimmigrant visas can’t be extended. This means that works must be terminated from employment. If they are out of status or unlawfully present, they’ll violate immigration laws. Business visitors have to file extensions for an additional 30-days because of an inability to travel.
What This Means for Employers
While the government grapples with its next steps, employers have to continue making requests for employment-based immigration benefits. They must also develop strategies for ongoing immigration compliance.
Unfortunately, due to the closures, many employees will have to be terminated if they find that their continued permission to work is interrupted. The relevant government agencies won’t be able to accept any new requests or make any decisions on existing work visa status.
Current regulations allow for interim employment authorization. This is the grace-period that is granted while an extension or a renewal request is pending. This interim can be up to 240 days to extend status, and 180 days for any adjustment of status. There is no way of knowing if this time will be sufficient.
Unless USCIS takes action to extend these interim grants of employment authorization, the situation for employers and noncitizen employees will become devastating.
Proposed Immigrant Action
As of March 18, 2020, proposals have been made to reverse an initial announcement. This said that there would be an increase of 35,000 H-2B visas for seasonal nonagricultural jobs, though the effective date is uncertain.
The same day there was a statement made in congress that there will be an increase in the investment immigration green cards – from 10,000 to 75,000. The investment accounts will be decreased to $450,000 and $900,000. Congress must approve of this before anything becomes effective.
On March 23, House Democrats proposed bill H.R.6379, which would automatically extend the status and work authorization of all nonimmigrants and DACA dreamers.
The same bill, the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act, would temporarily suspend the procedural requirement that a noncitizen employee would otherwise have to comply.
We’re living in a time of overall uncertainty, and unfortunately, for noncitizen workers and employers that depend on them, the future isn’t clear.
Anyone who’s directly impacted by the freeze should follow the protocols that are currently in place. It is essential for an immigration lawyer to stay vigilant and follow the legislation that’s unfolding rapidly in response to the coronavirus pandemic.