The Immigration of Coronavirus
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has created an immigration nightmare with changes announced with each passing minute and a level of uncertainty that has only compounded the uncertainty in an already confused and complicated immigration system. Borders across the world have closed to non-citizens. International students at colleges and universities, visitors staying at America’s hotels and resorts, and foreign employees on non-immigrant work visas sponsored by now-closed American companies have been left stranded in the United States or prevented from traveling to the United States, given the far-reaching travel restrictions the Trump Administration imposed on entry into the United States by non-citizens or non-lawful permanent residents. Those same United States citizens and lawful permanent residents, however, are traveling a maze to return to the United States before the global health emergency only worsens.
Coronavirus Effects on Immigration
Given the number of federal agencies involved in the implementation of immigration law, guidance on various issues related to the coronavirus is scattered and inconsistent, leaving many confused.
United States Travel Restrictions
Foreign nationals who were in any of the following countries in the 14 before traveling to the United States are barred from entering and will be turned away at U.S. airports, ports, border crossings, and other ports-of-entry: Austria, Belgium, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, and their immediate family members who traveled to these countries will be permitted to enter the United States. To enter, U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents must fly into one of 13 designated airports to undergo enhanced screening, with release only after passing the screening and, if negative, agreeing to a 14-day self-quarantine. The designated airports are:
- Boston-Logan International Airport (BOS), Massachusetts
- Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Illinois
- Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Texas
- Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), Hawaii
- Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW), Michigan
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Georgia
- John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York
- Los Angeles International Airport, (LAX), California
- Miami International Airport (MIA), Florida
- Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), New Jersey
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO), California
- Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Washington
- Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD), Virginia
Global Travel Restrictions
Like the United States, dozens of countries have barred the entry of non-citizens, including U.S. citizens, to their country. For the first time in modern American history, Canada and the United States agreed on Wednesday to close the borders between the two countries—halting the ability of U.S. citizens and nationals to freely travel to Canada for any reason that is not essential. Similarly, the United Kingdom, China, Australia, the European Union, Ireland, South Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Japan, Mexico, and dozens more have closed their borders to admitting non-citizens or nationals. These global travel restrictions vary in duration with several now set to remain in place indefinitely.
Embassy and Consulate Interviews
The State Department has stopped scheduling all immigrant and non-immigrant visa interviews at all United States Embassies and Consulates across the world. Moreover, the State Department has indefinitely canceled all immigrant and non-immigrant visa interviews that have already been scheduled and will inform the public when a decision is made to resume embassy and consular interviews.
Immigration Application and Petition Interviews
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) suspended routine in-person services on March 18, 2020, until at least April 1, 2020. While USCIS will continue to accept and process all petitions and applications for immigration benefits, there will be no interviews or biometrics appointments related to those benefit requests until further notice. This cancellation includes all in-person interviews before USCIS field offices, including adjustment of status, family petitions, removal of conditions, employment-based permanent residence, and asylum-related matters.
Interviews that were scheduled between March 18, 2020, and April 1, 2020, have already been canceled by USCIS and put in line for rescheduling once USCIS in-person operations resume.
Additionally, any INFOPASS appointments that were scheduled for the same time period have been canceled. Those who had INFOPASS appointments between March 18, 2020, and April 1, 2020, should contact USCIS when operations begin rescheduling the canceled INFOPASS appointments.
Naturalization Interviews and Oath Ceremonies
USCIS canceled all naturalization interviews and oath ceremonies scheduled from March 18, 2020, through April 1, 2020. All individuals who were scheduled for naturalization interviews or to take their oath of naturalization between those dates will be placed in line for rescheduling.
The following immigration courts are closed: Atlanta, Georgia; Charlotte, North Carolina; Houston, Texas; Louisville, Kentucky; Memphis, Tennessee; Federal Plaza, New York, New York; Newark, New Jersey; Sacramento, California; and Los Angeles, California. All other immigration courts remain open.
All immigration court hearings for non-detained individuals from March 18, 2020, until further notice, have been postponed. Immigration Courts will begin mailing hearing notices to attorneys after non-detained hearings resume. Open immigration courts will continue to move forward on all matters in which an immigrant is in federal immigration custody.
Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) has scaled back enforcement actions to individuals in the United States that have criminal convictions or pose other risks or danger to the United States. ICE is continuing to service employers with notices of inspections, but workplace raids and similar larger enforcement actions have halted.
Moreover, ICE has agreed to not make any immigration-related arrests nor take enforcement actions at any public or private hospitals unless the most “exigent” of circumstances exist.
American colleges and universities are home to tens of thousands of students who are in the United States under non-immigrant student or training visas, such as the F-1 and M-1. Under ordinary circumstances, international students who were not enrolled in a full-time, in-person college or university program would be deemed in violation of their non-immigrant status. International students are not permitted to fulfill their educational credit obligations through online courses. To allow online courses for international students would defeat the purpose of non-immigrant student visas—to travel to the United States for purposes of studying in the United States.
With a move by colleges and universities from traditional classroom teaching to online learning for weeks, if not the remainder of a college semester, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security has temporarily modified the bar on online courses for international students. If a college or university has switched to online learning, international students in the United States under an F-1 or M-1 may remain in the United States for the duration of the term and continue progressing towards their degree through their college’s online learning platform. International students will not be deemed in violation of their status if online learning is the only means of instruction for the duration of the current semester.