In a haphazard manner over the last few days, the US Government’s immigration components, USCIS, ICE, CBP, the Immigration Courts, and the Department of State have implemented a flurry of policies that have caused disruptions in inbound U.S. travel and caused monumental confusion for those awaiting interviews at USCIS, seeking relief from deportation, and trying get visa stamps. It is quite clear that there is no general plan nor effective leadership at the federal level on responding to this crisis.
Our notice attempts to provide a summary of the travel restrictions and immigration-related changes that have been implemented to date, these summaries could, of course, change at any moment and will keep you updated each day as they do.
Consular Service Suspension
The U.S. Embassies/Consulates in Ciudad Juarez, Lima, Santiago, Bogota, London, Paris, Brussels, Rome, Milan, Naples, Florence, Rome, Stockholm, Beirut, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv are among the latest posts to suspend non-emergency visa services. As the pandemic continues, it is expected that virtually all U.S. Embassies/Consulates will limit visa services or close entirely except as to emergency services for US Citizens, and the consulates and embassies will generally be out of rcontact for virtually everyone. If you have an urgent matter and need to travel immediately, please follow your preferred consulate’s guidance regarding emergency nonimmigrant visa appointments, or call your attorney at Kuck Baxter Immigration.
The Travel Bans
On March 11, 2020, President Trump issued a proclamation that forbid certain individuals who have traveled to the Schengen Area in the last fourteen days from entering the U.S. The Schengen Area includes the countries of Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Later, on March 14, 2020, the travel ban was expanded to include the United Kingdom and Ireland.
The travel bans do not apply to:
- U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (“LPRs”);
- Spouses of U.S. citizens or LPRs;
- Parents or legal guardians of U.S. citizens or LPRs, provided the child is unmarried and under the age of 21;
- Siblings of U.S. citizens or LPRs, provided both are unmarried and under the age of 21;
- Children who are under the legal custody of U.S. citizens or LPRs; and
- Other certain foreign governments and health officials.
These bans are in addition to existing travel bans for Mainland China (effective January 31, 2020) and Iran (effective February 29, 2020). Similar exemptions as listed above are available for travelers from Mainland China and Iran.
A reassessment of all COVID-19 related travel bans will likely occur on April 11, 2020.
ESTA Cancellation for Individuals Who Attempt to Circumvent Travel Bans
Travelers with a valid ESTA who are subject to the travel bans and who attempt to travel to the U.S. in violation of the travel ban will have their ESTA canceled. These revocations are reportedly without prejudice, meaning that those travelers will be able to apply for ESTA in the future.
All Inbound U.S. Air Traffic to be Redirected to 13 Airports
Individuals who are exempted from the travel bans and who are traveling to the U.S. will be redirected to one of the thirteen designated U.S. airports where the U.S. government is focusing public health resources. These airports include JRK, ORD, SFO, SEA, HNL, LAX, ATL, IAD, EWR, DFW, DTW, BOS, and MIA
USCIS Office Closures
Reports just now indicated that USCIS will be closing all their offices through early April. This has NOT been confirmed on the USCIS web-page, but we expect it is true. USCIS has gradually been limiting access to its facilities. USCIS has been requesting that anyone who (1) has traveled internationally to any country outside the U.S. within 14 days of their appointment, (2) believes they have been exposed to COVID-19, or (3) is experiencing flu-like symptoms to not attend their appointment. So, if USCIS does not close, and you need to reschedule, USCIS promises to reschedule you in May. Call your attorney or paralegal at Kuck Baxter Immigration for details about your appointment. It is unclear if Application Support Centers (fingerprint locations) will remain open. Look for word on that tomorrow.
Immigration Court Closures
Unbelievably, the Immigration Court system run by the Executive Office Immigration Review remains open for non-detained final hearings, although initial hearings, called Master Calendar hearings, scheduled through April 10 have all been postponed. Immigration judges across the U.S. are limiting access to their courts. And a confirmed report has been circulating that at least one Immigration Judge has contracted COVID-19. While the courts have yet to close en masse, the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ), the American Federation of Government Employees Local 511 (the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Professionals Union), and the American Immigration Lawyers Association recently called upon the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to close the courts indefinitely. The DOJ has yet to respond to this call, though it is expected that many courts will be rescheduling hearings.
Detained Immigration Court hearings remain ongoing, and we do not expect the detained immigration court docket to slow down at all. The deportation machinery must continue (although ICE has confirmed that “ICE-AIR” is basically shut down at the moment because of foreign governments’ closings of their borders). The attorneys are Kuck Baxter Immigration are prepared to continue to assist our clients in all matters related to the immigration courts, so do not hesitate to call us for assistance
ICE is Open for Business
Not surprisingly, ICE is open for business, at least partially. ICE-DRO (the part that actually arrests and deports people) remains in operation, and has continued to require people to report to the Order of Supervision appointments, although in at least some cases those reporting are told to come back after April 20. Everyone who has a report date with ICE needs to keep reporting until ICE publicly declares a non-report date in effect.
The other part of ICE–HSI (the part that does investigations) has closed their offices, although they are still requiring their officers to follow up on a large of amount of Notices of Inspection (I-9 audits) that were served over a four day period last week. Individual officers are calling those businesses served to schedule a time to pick up the responsive documents, but they are being flexible on the mandatory three day return deadline. If you need assistance on one of the I-9 audits, are attorneys have 30 years of experience helping clients respond to and handle the audit process.
We advise all clients who plan to travel overseas within the next three months to monitor any health-related travel restrictions for your destination(s), and for travelers from your destination back to the United States. As coronavirus travel restrictions in different countries have been changing with little-to-no notice, you should regularly check whether there are any travel restrictions on your destination and your return to the United States that may apply to you before you depart.
Our firm will continue to keep you abreast as to any developments relating to inbound U.S. travel bans.
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Feel free to reach out with any questions or for help in your immigration case at 404-816-8611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.