What Has Been The Impact Of COVID-19 On Noncitizens And Across The US Immigration System?

The COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus) pandemic, and the federal government’s response, has disrupted virtually every aspect of the U.S. immigration system. Visa processing overseas by the Department of State, as well as the processing of some immigration benefits within the country by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), have come to a near standstill. Entry into the United States along the Mexican and Canadian borders, including by asylum seekers, has been severely restricted. Immigration enforcement actions in the interior of the country have been curtailed, although they have not stopped entirely. Tens of thousands of people remain in immigration detention despite the high risk of COVID-19 transmission in crowded jails, prisons, and detention centers that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) uses to hold noncitizens.

The pandemic led to the suspension of almost all immigration court hearings and limited the functioning of those few courts which remain open.

What Has Been The Impact Of COVID-19 On Immigrants And Nonimmigrants Abroad?

The COVID-19 pandemic profoundly impacted the ability of foreign nationals to travel to the United States in any status. Beginning in February 2020, the Trump administration has imposed four separate travel restrictions on individuals who had been present in certain countries where COVID-19 epidemics were occurring. As the pandemic spread, on March 20, 2020, the Department of State suspended “routine visa services” at all embassies and consulates worldwide, including canceling all “immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments.” This suspension encompasses applicants for both employment-based and family-based immigrant visas, including the relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs), as well as applicants for nonimmigrant visas for visitors, students, and skilled workers. However, the State Department has continued to process all H-2 visa cases, which includes temporary agricultural workers, and allows for emergency visa appointments.

The pandemic has also led to new barriers on legal immigration. The Trump administration implemented a proclamation, effective April 24, 2020, that suspends the entry of certain immigrants, with the stated purpose of preserving employment opportunities for U.S. citizens affected by the economic impact of the pandemic.

What Has Been The Effect Of COVID-19 On Immigration Processing At US Land Borders?

On March 20, 2020, the United States reached joint agreements with the governments of Canada and Mexico to suspend “non-essential” travel through ports of entry on each border. On the same day, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an emergency regulation which permits the Director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to “prohibit … the introduction” of individuals when the Director believes that “there is serious danger of the introduction of [a communicable] disease into the United States.” Citing the new CDC authority, the Border Patrol began “expelling” individuals who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border, without giving them the opportunity to seek asylum. Over 20,000 people have since been “expelled” at the southern border.

What Happens To An Immigrant Who Has A Visa That Is Expiring Or Has Expired During The Pandemic? Will He Or She Be Deported?

If your visa is going to expire but has not yet expired you can do the following:

Under normal circumstances, foreign nationals visiting the United States of America must leave the country before their visa or ESTA expires.

US visas grant a maximum stay of between 1 and 6 months, while the ESTA allows travelers on the visa waiver program to visit visa-free for up to 90 days.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the US government recognizes the fact that visitors from overseas may be unexpectedly forced to remain on American soil due to canceled flights or other factors.

Nonimmigrant foreign nationals are advised to apply for an extension of stay (EOS) or change of status (COS) in advance of the expiration date of their US visa. This can be done by contacting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Many of the required forms can be completed online.

If an application for an EOS or COS has been filed before the expiration date but is still pending when the visa or ESTA expires, this is not usually regarded as unlawful presence in the US for the foreign national.

If the EOS or COS request is filed late due to extraordinary circumstances beyond the applicant’s control, such as cancellation of flights due to COVID-19, USCIS will make allowances at their own discretion.

For foreign nationals in the visa waiver program, the situation is similar. However, if emergencies prevent the visitor from leaving on time, USCIS may allow them a further 30 days. Travelers in this situation should call the USCIS Contact Center.

If your visa has expired you will accumulate unlawful presence. You should still seek extension of status or change of status if you could prior to 180 days of unlawful presence.

I Was In The US On A Visa When The Borders Were Closed Due To COVID-19. My Visa Since Expired. Is This Considered An Illegal Overstay On My Visa?


Will This Cause Immigration Issues For Me In The Future?

Possibly. If you have accumulated more than 180 days but less than one year of unlawful presence, you risk triggering the 3-year bar when you depart the United States. If you accumulated more than one year of unlawful presence, you risk triggering the 10-year bar when you depart the United States

For more information on Impact Of COVID-19 On Noncitizens In The US, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (817) 532-5666 today.