As employers work through issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to evaluate the immigration considerations for employees on various work visas. Some of the most common alternatives to H-1B visas include foreign nationals who hold E-1, E-2, L-1, O-1, TN, and F-1 visas. While these types of work visas do not have the same legal requirements relating to prevailing wages and changes in work locations as H-1B visas, there are important considerations for these employees as well.
On April 2, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it is holding off on plans to issue additional H-2B visas. DHS had previously agreed to make an additional 35,000 visas available to seasonal employers after the visa quota (or cap) had been met for the second half of fiscal year (FY) 2020.
On March 27, 2020, President Donald Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, intended to stimulate the national economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Act provides $2 trillion in direct financial assistance, including paid leave, unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, and rebates to eligible individuals. Immigrants and foreign nationals in the United States may be eligible for some or all of the listed benefits, depending on the circumstances.
On March 30, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the following policy updates in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 23, 2020, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) published answers to frequently asked questions by Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) stakeholders about the impact of COVID-19 on SEVP-certified schools and students on F and M visas.
On March 27, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it has completed the initial H-1B selection process for fiscal year (FY) 2021. This was the first time USCIS used an electronic registration system to conduct the selection lottery. USCIS plans to notify petitioners with selected registrations by March 31, 2020.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) field offices will remain closed to the public until at least April 7, 2020. The closure applies to routine in-person services at USCIS field offices, asylum offices, and Application Support Centers (ASCs), although emergency services may be available in limited circumstances.
Employers are facing numerous issues in light of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, including remote work, temporary office closures, furloughs, and layoffs. These issues may have particular implications for U.S. employees holding H-1B specialty occupation visas, as they are typically required to remain productive in order to maintain their legal status.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on March 20, 2020, that it will relax the in-person verification requirements of the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification for employers operating remotely due to COVID-19. Beginning March 20, 2020, employers will not be required to review an employee’s identity and/or employment authorization documents while in the employee’s physical presence.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Government of India has issued an order prohibiting all inbound international flights to India beginning March 22, 2020. The current ban is set to expire on March 29, 2020, but is subject to change.
On March 20, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the immediate and temporary suspension of premium processing services for all Forms I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker and Forms I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers due to COVID-19 pandemic. The suspension includes new premium processing requests for H-1B petitions, including cap-subject petitions for fiscal year (FY) 2021, and supersedes the FY 2021 premium processing schedule announced on March 16, 2020.
As of March 21, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will accept electronically reproduced original signatures in lieu of “wet” signatures on all benefit forms and documents. USCIS implemented the temporary change as a result of the COVID-19 national emergency, and the change only applies to signatures.
The U.S. Department of State announced on March 18, 2020, that it has suspended all routine visa services, including immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments, in most countries worldwide.
Effective March 18, 2020, all U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) field offices are temporarily closed to the public. USCIS has suspended all routine in-person services at its field offices, asylum offices, and Application Support Centers (ASCs) to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
For the second straight year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will implement a staggered approach to premium processing for the H-1B cap season. For fiscal year (FY) 2021, USCIS will make premium processing available in two phases.
Beginning March 16, 2020, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) began allowing certain travelers the opportunity to make a Satisfactory Departure request directly at a port of entry if, due to COVID-19–related travel issues, a traveler is unable to depart the United States before his or her period of admission expires.
The continuing spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) throughout the United States has caused employers to consider implementing contingency plans to help curb the spread of the disease and protect their workforces. Many companies are now restricting nonessential travel outside of the United States. Companies are also increasingly instructing their employees to work from home.
The global COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact international travel to the United States as well as the availability of U.S. consular services around the world. The following is a summary of the latest updates.
On March 11, 2020, the Trump administration issued a proclamation suspending the entry of foreign nationals from 26 European countries (known as the Schengen Area) into the United States. The suspension is intended to help curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and will go into effect at 11:59 p.m. EDT on March 13, 2020.
The United Kingdom (UK) formally left the European Union (EU) on January 31, 2020, and entered a transition period that will officially end on December 31, 2020. The UK and EU have agreed that EU nationals who move to the UK before January 1, 2021, will be permitted to remain in the UK. However, they must apply under the EU Settlement Scheme by June 30, 2021, to secure confirmation of their immigration status.
On February 18, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reached the H-2B cap for the second half of fiscal year (FY) 2020. USCIS received significantly more petitions than there were H-2B visas available for the remainder of the fiscal year, requiring the agency to conduct a computer-generated lottery to select a sufficient number of H-2B petitions for adjudication.
In a 5–4 decision on February 21, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Wolf v. Cook County, Illinois (No. 19A905) in favor of staying an Illinois district court’s injunction blocking the Trump administration’s public charge rule. This injunction had been limited to Illinois residents only—a distinction that initially kept it in place when the Supreme Court overturned a nationwide injunction issued by a New York federal court in January.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is set to take a big first step toward the implementation of its new electronic registration system for fiscal year (FY) 2021 H-1B cap cases (those subject to the annual quota).
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has suspended New Yorkers’ eligibility to apply for or renew their enrollment in four Trusted Traveler Programs (TTPs) administered by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The suspension went into effect on February 5, 2020, in response to New York’s Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act, commonly called the “Green Light Law.”
On February 2, 2020, the United States joined a growing list of countries that have implemented travel restrictions for those at risk of transmitting the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
On January 31, 2020, the Trump administration expanded the list of countries affected by Presidential Proclamation 9645, more commonly referred to as “Travel Ban 3.0.” Nigeria, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Sudan, and Tanzania have all been added to the list after failing to meet minimum U.S. security standards.
On January 30, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it will begin implementing the new public charge regulations on February 24, 2020. The regulations broadly expand the list of public benefits that can be considered, as well as the discretion given to immigration officers when deciding whether someone is “more likely than not” to become a public charge.