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USCIS Reopens to In-Person Appointments, Seeking Federal Funding Due to COVID-19

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USCIS Reopens to In-Person Appointments, Seeking Federal Funding Due to COVID-19

As local communities and the greater nation begin to slowly reopen amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, some U.S. immigration agencies are getting ready to get back to business.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been closed to in-person appointments and interviews since March 18, 2020, but plans to reopen June 4, 2020. In an official announcement, USICS laid out the procedures and protocol stakeholders should expect and adhere to as they return to USCIS Field Offices and Application Support Centers (ASCs).

COVID-19 has had substantial impacts on most of us. The pandemic caused a considerable financial hit on the agency. Multiple sources claim that USCIS plans to furlough employees in July 2020. Sources are also indicating that the agency, which uses application fees paid by petitioners, applicants, and beneficiaries, to self-sustain itself, has asked the Federal Government for financial help to avoid further economic damage.

Some readers may recall that USCIS had previously issued a proposal in November 2019 to increase filing fees. More information on that is available here

Whether USCIS’s proposal of increased filing fees goes into effect or not is something to be determined in the near future. For now, USCIS offices will reduce the number of guests allowed into the premises. Appointments and interviews will be limited to ensure social distancing, to allow for sanitization between appointments, and to reduce the number of individuals in waiting rooms. USCIS notices will offer information on safety precautions that individuals must follow during their visit.

Visitors may not enter a USCIS office or center if they are exhibiting signs of COVID-19, have been in close contact with someone who has or is suspected of having the virus, or has been directed to self-isolate or quarantine by a health care provider or official 14 days prior to the day of their visit. Visitors must wear protective facial cover that covers both their mouth and nose. Visitors will not be allowed to enter USCIS facilities more than 15 minutes before their appointment, although that time is pushed to 30 minutes for naturalization oath ceremonies. USCIS encourages visitors to bring their own pens.

Finally, it is worth noting that USCIS has stated that there will be no penalty or punishment for a party requesting cancellation of his interview if he feels sick. We at Ibrahim Law Office take that to mean that it is best to be safe rather than risk getting yourself or someone else in close contact with the virus. With the general guidelines sorted, below are some specific guidelines pertaining to specific USCIS services.

Application Interviews and Appointments

USCIS shall automatically send notices to applicants, beneficiaries, and petitioners who were scheduled to appear before USCIS before the March 2020 temporary closures. Only the applicant(s)/beneficiary(ies)/petitioner will be allowed to visit USCIS in person. These individuals may bring one legal representative, one family member, and one individual to assist if a party has a disability that requires accommodation. Interpreters shall be phoned in by the interview officer.

Asylum Office

USCIS Asylum Offices shall send out interview notices to applicants whose interviews were cancelled after the March 2020 closures. Applicants will receive information regarding the new time, date, and location for their interview. USCIS states that asylum interviews will be done using video, where where the applicant will sit in one room while the interviewing officer sits in another room. Asylum Offices will use technology, including mobile devices provided by USCIS, to ensure that the officer, applicant, interpreter, and applicant’s attorney can participate in the interview while maintaining social distancing.

Applicants must bring all family members included as beneficiaries under the asylum application to the Asylum Office. If an applicant is not fluent in English, she must bring an interpreter. If the applicant is a minor or requires accommodation, the applicant may bring a “trusted adult” or guide.

Naturalization Ceremonies

USCIS will send rescheduling notices to naturalization candidates who passed their N-400 exams and were scheduled for their oath ceremonies. The ceremonies may be shorter to limit exposure to those in attendance. Traditionally, USCIS would play informational videos, often accompanied by a congratulatory remark by the President of the United States in office at the time of the interview. In lieu of video, individuals will receive a flyer with information and links directing them to the videos on USCIS.gov. All legally required portions of the ceremony will take place. Attendance is limited to the naturalization candidate and individuals providing assistance to disabled candidates. We at Ibrahim Law Office read that to mean that loved ones may not attend the oath ceremony.

Application Support Centers

ASCs conduct biometrics-related matters, such as fingerprinting associated with applications. USCIS will automatically reschedule any necessary ASC appointments that were cancelled due to COVID-19. Individuals will receive a new appointment notice by mail with specific safety requirements. Individuals who appear at a date or time other than what is listed on the ASC appointment notice may encounter significant processing delays, except for military members.

If you or a loved one has questions or concerns regarding an immigration application, or if your case has suffered significant delay due to COVID-19, contact Ibrahim Law Office, an immigration law firm, to discuss your case and potential options available to you.

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