Like everything in our lives, immigration was impacted by COVID-19 this spring. Many agencies and offices shut down completely. Now, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the Immigration Courts, and U.S. Embassies and Consulates around the world are beginning to reopen. Since this is a fast-changing situation, we highly recommend that you contact the specific office over your case before making any major plans.

USCIS

USCIS closed their offices to the public on March 18th. This meant that all interviews and all Naturalization oath ceremonies were postponed indefinitely. However, USCIS employees continued to work on cases, so some older cases were reviewed and adjudicated and other items not requiring interviews – like work cards and DACA renewals – were also processed. 

On June 4th, USCIS will begin holding interviews and Naturalization oath ceremonies again. If you had an interview or Naturalization oath ceremony cancelled because of the pandemic, you will automatically be sent a new interview notice. We don’t know how quickly these will be issued, but you do not need to contact USCIS.  It could be a few weeks or even longer before they are able to send out new notices to everyone who was cancelled in March. 

Once you’re at USCIS, though, it will not be business as usual. There will fewer interviews per day and there will be new safety precautions in place. These new guidelines include:

  • Everyone entering must wear a mask or facial covering
    • These may need to be removed briefly for capturing photographs, when applicable
  • You cannot arrive more than 15 minutes before the scheduled interview time – or more than 30 minutes before the scheduled Naturalization oath ceremony
  • You are encouraged to bring your own blue or black ink pen
  • Limiting the people who can attend the interview
    • Only petitioner/beneficiary, attorney and those providing services to applicants with disabilities
  • No in-person translator allowed
    • If you need a translator, they must be available over the phone
  • You may also be asked health screening questions before being allowed to enter a USCIS office

Naturalization ceremonies will be limited to the person being sworn-in and individuals assisting those with disabilities. The ceremonies will be shorter than they have been to limit exposure to one another. We have heard stories of USCIS conducting ceremonies in parking lots in order to have as many people possible sworn-in while maintaining social distancing. Be prepared for creative solutions as we all adapt to the “new normal.”

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone with the disease and get scheduled to appear at USCIS, you must ask them to reschedule you. 

Please review the USCIS website at www.uscis.gov for the latest information.

Immigration Courts

Many immigration court cases were delayed during the pandemic. All non-detained hearings scheduled through June 26th will be rescheduled. The only exception is in Honolulu, which will start to hear non-detained cases on June 15th. If someone is detained, all hearings and filing deadlines remain the same.

The Department of Justice, which oversees the Immigration Courts, has not issued health and safety guidelines, yet. For the latest information, please see their website: https://www.justice.gov/eoir/eoir-operational-status-during-coronavirus-pandemic 

U.S. Embassies and Consulates

Nearly every U.S. Embassy and Consulate around the globe shutdown this spring, cancelling or postponing countless visa interviews. Each post will have their own schedule to reopen depending on the situation in that particular country. We recommend checking the Embassy or Consulate website weekly for updates. Interviews should be automatically rescheduled once the facilities reopen to the public.

The National Visa Center (NVC) has been reviewing and processing cases. If the NVC has documentarily qualified your case, you’ll be placed in line for an interview to be scheduled as soon as possible.

Conclusion

It’s good to see immigration cases moving forward again. Our immigration system can’t be closed forever and we’re grateful that the various agencies are taking health precautions so seriously. It will be a different experience and will require flexibility and understanding, but we will soon be back to getting green cards approved, getting visas granted, and having new U.S. citizens sworn-in.