Department of State Suspends Routine Visa Services
On March 20, 2020, in response to significant worldwide challenges related to the novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”) pandemic, the Department of State announced that routine visa services will be temporarily suspended at all U.S. embassies and consulates. Further, embassies and consulates will cancel all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments. Please note that services will continue to be available to U.S. citizens, and applicants with an urgent matter and need to travel immediately should follow the guidance provided at the embassy’s website to request an emergency appointment. For more information, please visit the embassy website that applies to you.
USCIS Announces Temporary Suspension of Premium Processing for All I-129 and I-140 Petitions Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Effective March 20, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) will not accept any new requests for premium processing for all I-129 and I-140 Petitions. USCIS will continue to process any petition with premium processing in which the agency had previously accepted premium processing service, in accordance with the premium processing service criteria. However, USCIS will not be able to send notices using prepaid envelopes; only batch-printed notices will be sent. Petitions that were filed with premium processing prior to the effective date and accepted by USCIS, but cannot be adjudicated within the required 15-calendar-day window, will receive a refund of their premium processing fee, consistent with 8 CFR 103.7(e).
USCIS Announces Flexibility in Submitting Required Signatures During COVID-19 National Emergency
On March 20, 2020, USCIS announced that it will accept forms and documents without an original “wet” signature for submission dated on or after March 21, 2020, for the duration of the COVID-19 national emergency. This means that clients may now submit reproduced original signatures, such as scanned, faxed, photocopied, or similarly reproduced signatures, provided that the copy is from an original document containing original handwritten signatures. Clients opting to use this option must still retain the original signed documents containing the “wet” signature, as USCIS may, at any time, request the original signed documents.
Office of Foreign Labor Certification (“OFLC”) Issues FAQs on LCA and PERM Posting Periods During the Pandemic
On March 20, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s (“DOL’s”) OFLC issued FAQs to address employer concerns related to agency operations and other related topics, including meeting statutory and regulatory requirements for filing a Labor Condition Application (“LCA”) and an Application for Permanent Labor Certification (“PERM Application”) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Per DOL regulations, employers are required to begin recruitment efforts no more than 180 days before filing a PERM Application and to complete all mandatory recruitment steps at least 30 days before filing. Due to the impact and disruptions to the business operation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, OFLC will accept recruitment completed within 60 days after the regulatory deadlines for recruitment have passed, as long as the employer initiated necessary recruitment within the 180 days preceding the President’s emergency declaration on March 13, 2020 (“Emergency Declaration”).
Employers must also post a Notice of Filing (“NOF”) for at least 10 business days and complete the posting at least 30 days before filing the PERM Application. The DOL will extend the posting period and accept an NOF posted within 60 days after the regulatory deadlines for recruitment have passed, as long as the recruitment began within 180 days preceding the Emergency Declaration. Employers that began their PERM recruitment on or after September 15, 2019, may file the related PERM Application up to May 12, 2020.
The FAQs also address concerns surrounding the LCA posting requirement in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under DOL regulations, employers with an approved LCA may move H-1B, H1-B1, or E-3 workers to other worksite locations that are not listed on the LCA without filing a new LCA, provided that the work locations are within the same area of intended employment covered by the approved LCA. When moving the affected worker within the same area of intended employment, either hard-copy or electronic notice must be provided at the new worksite on the day or before the worker begins at the new worksite location. To address challenges surrounding the notice and posting requirement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, notice of an LCA filing will be considered timely when placed no later than 30 calendar days after the H-1B, H1-B1, or E-3 worker starts working at the new worksite.
E-Verify Extends Timeframe for Taking Action on Tentative Nonconfirmations (“TNCs”)
E-Verify is extending the timeframe to (i) resolve Social Security Administration (“SSA”) TNCs due to SSA office closures to the public, and (ii) take action to resolve Department of Homeland Security TNCs in limited circumstances when an employee cannot resolve a TNC due to public or private office closures.
Should you have any questions or wish further guidance on these or any other immigration issues during the current pandemic, please contact one of the authors or your Epstein Becker Green attorney.