In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recognises that nonimmigrants may have to unexpectedly remain in the United States beyond their authorised period of stay.
What should non-immigrant (B-1 and B-2) visa holders do?
The non-immigrant visa holders (B-1 and B-2 category-specific) can timely file an application for extension of stay (EOS) or change in status (COS). The forms are available for online filing and USCIS will continue to accept and process applications and petitions during the period.
When an extension of stay request is filed on time, it does not accrue for unlawful presence while the timely filed EOS/COS application is pending approval. Also where applicable, the employment authorisation with the same employer is automatically extended for up to 240 days after I-94 expiration, subject to the same terms and conditions of the prior approval.
In case of extraordinary circumstances, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, USCIS at its discretion will excuse delays in filing documents by applicants or petitioners for extension of stay or change of status request (on Forms I-129 or I-539) after the authorised period of admission expires. The credible evidence in case of unavoidable COVID-19 circumstances will be evaluated by USCIS on a case-by-case basis.
Can VWP entrant visa holders apply for an extension of stay?
However, the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) entrants are not eligible to extend their stay or change status. If a COVID-19 emergency prevents the departure of a VWP entrant, then USCIS in its discretion may grant a period of satisfactory departure for up to 30 days.
According to USCIS, "For those VWP entrants who have already been granted satisfactory departure and unable to depart within this 30-day period because of COVID-19 related issues, USCIS has the authority to temporarily provide an additional 30-day period of satisfactory departure. To request a satisfactory departure from USCIS, a VWP entrant should call the USCIS Contact Center."
Granting of visa extensions for H-1B visa holders and others
USCIS clarified, "Applicants who had an appointment scheduled with Application Support Centers (ASC) on or after the March 18 closure, or those who have filed an I-765 extension request for Application for Employment Authorization will have their application processed using previously submitted biometrics. This will remain in effect until ASCs are open for appointments to the public."
To help slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has temporarily suspended in-person services at its field offices, asylum offices, and application support centres (ASCs). It will reopen on May 4, unless the public closures are extended further. USCIS employees continue to provide mission-essential services in these times that do not require face-to-face contact with the public.
Announcing the temporary suspension of premium processing service, USCIS says Petitioners who have already filed a Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, or Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers who have filed and received no agency response will receive a refund within 15-days. Also, 1-907 applications for premium processing will be rejected and the refund of $1,440 will be issued to all applicants and petitioners who mailed before March 20 but were not accepted.
The temporary suspension of premium processing services applies to follow categories of visas: I-129: E-1, E-2, H-1B, H-2B, H-3, L-1A, L-1B, LZ, O-1, O-2, P-1, P-1S, P-2, P-2S, P-3, P-3S, Q-1, R-1, TN-1 and TN-2. Also I-140: EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3.
According to a recent announcement, if a US employer terminates the contract of an H-1B holder, then the employee has to find new employment within a time period of 60 days, to retain the visa status. While Indian IT workers have filed a petition in the White House seeking an extension of 180 days, instead of the 60-day period granted. According to USCIS data, Indians are the biggest beneficiaries of the US H1-B visa programme.
USCIS assured that once it resumes normal operations, it will automatically reschedule ASC appointments pending (in the queue) due to the temporary office closure. Applicants will receive a new appointment letter in the mail and individuals who had InfoPass or other appointments must reschedule the same through the USCIS Contact Center, once field offices are open to the public again.