With the COVID-19 pandemic leading to immigration agencies closing many of their physical offices and courts to the public, there are a lot of questions about what immigration applications can still be filed and how the closures will affect them.
Firstly, to recap, USCIS has closed its offices to in-person services until at least May 3. All routine interviews, biometrics appointments, naturalization swearing-in ceremonies, and other in-person services will be postponed until further notice. The San Francisco Asylum Office will remain closed to the public until at last May 4. All asylum interviews until May 4 will be canceled and rescheduled.
Despite these physical office closures, USCIS is still processing immigration applications. It is a good idea to file your applications for immigration relief as soon as possible so that you are in line and your case is not further delayed when USCIS appointments recommence.
Filing timely is crucial in many types of USCIS applications. One important example is that to qualify for asylum, you must file your application within one year of entry to the United States, with limited exceptions. Another example is that you should file for residency no later than four years after you receive your U Visa, which is only valid for four years. Such deadlines remain in place by law, despite USCIS having closed its physical offices to the public.
It is true that biometrics appointments are currently on hold, which may cause applications to sit pending for longer. However, USCIS has announced that it would be trying to recapture biometrics for work permits if the applicant’s biometrics are already in their system.
During such economically uncertain times, it is essential to obtain a work permit if you are eligible to do so. Applications for such forms of relief as asylum and lawful permanent residency, allow those with pending applications to obtain a work permit.
Lastly, USCIS announced at the end of 2019 that it would soon be raising filing fees for several applications, including naturalization, residency, and the provisional waiver. If you want to avoid being subject to these higher filing fees (for example, the naturalization fees are proposed to go from $725 to $1200), you should file your application as soon as you can with the help of an attorney.
Bean, Lloyd, Mukherji, & Taylor is continuing to provide consultations over the phone and is conducting all its business remotely. We remain committed to our clients in these challenging times as they strive to obtain immigration relief in the United States.