On May 27, 2020 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it is preparing some domestic offices to reopen and resume non-emergency public services on or after June 4. Routine in-person services at USCIS field offices, asylum offices and application support centers (ASCs) has been suspended since March 18 to help slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). USCIS is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines to protect our workforce and the public. As services begin to reopen, offices will reduce the number of appointments and interviews to ensure social distancing, allow time for cleaning and reduce waiting room occupancy.
Appointment notices will contain information on safety precautions that visitors to USCIS facilities must follow. The status of any particular office may change at a moment’s notice, so USCIS recommends that you check their USCIS Office Closings and Field Offices pages for up to date information about office closures or changed hours. Specifically, USCIS requests that all applicants check these pages on the day and before visiting a USCIS office for a scheduled appointment. USCIS also requests that any applicants who feel sick do not attend a scheduled appointment. Instead, applicants should follow the instructions on the appointment notice to reschedule the appointment. There is no penalty for rescheduling an appointment due to illness. All individuals who appear at a USCIS office are required to follow all safety precautions (see below). While certain offices are temporarily closed, USCIS continues to provide limited emergency in-person services. Individuals may locate USCIS contact information on the USCIS Contact Center page to obtain emergency services.
Interviews and Appointments
USCIS will send notices to applicants and petitioners with previously scheduled appointments and interviews. Those attending appointments must follow the safety guidelines outlined below. Any individual with an appointments should confirm that the USCIS where they plan to appear remains open and available for the appointment immediately before appearing. Visitors are limited to the applicant, one representative, one family member and one individual providing disability accommodations. The applicant should arrange to have their interpreter available by phone.
Application Support Centers
USCIS will automatically reschedule any necessary ASC appointments that were cancelled due to the temporary office closure. Those attending appointments must follow the safety guidelines outlined below. Individuals who appear at a date or time other than what is listed on the ASC appointment notice may encounter significant processing delays, except for military members.
USCIS will send notices to applicants to reschedule postponed naturalization ceremonies. The ceremonies will be shorter to limit exposure to those in attendance, but all legally required portions of the ceremony will take place. Instead of playing videos during naturalization ceremonies, attendees will receive a flyer with information and links directing them to the videos on the USCIS Naturalization Ceremonies page for advance viewing. Attendance will be limited to the naturalization candidate and individuals providing assistance to disabled persons.
USCIS asylum offices will automatically reschedule asylum interviews that were cancelled during the temporary closures. When USCIS reschedules the interview, asylum applicants will receive a new interview notice with the new time, date, and location for the interview and information about safety precautions.
In accordance with social distancing guidelines, and due to the length of asylum interviews, asylum offices expect to conduct video-facilitated asylum interviews, where the applicants sit in one room and the interviewing officer sits in another room. Asylum offices will use available technology, including mobile devices provided by the agency, to ensure that the officer, applicant, interpreter, and representative can fully and safely participate in the interview while maintaining social distancing.
For affirmative asylum interviews, applicants must bring all immediate family members listed as dependents on the application and an interpreter, if the applicant does not speak English. Additionally, a representative, witness, individual providing disability accommodations, or “trusted adult” if an applicant is a minor, may attend the interview.
For non-detained credible or reasonable fear interviews, individuals must bring any family members listed on the interview notice. Representatives may attend credible and reasonable fear interviews but are encouraged to participate telephonically. USCIS will provide contracted, professional interpreters for credible and reasonable fear interviews.
SAFETY GUIDLINES FOR ENTERING USCIS FACILITIES:
- Visitors may not enter a USCIS facility if they:
- Have any symptoms of COVID-19, including cough, fever or difficulty breathing;
- Have been in close contact with anyone known or suspected to have COVID-19 in the last 14 days; or
- Have been individually directed to self-quarantine or self-isolate by a health care provider or public health official within the last 14 days.
- Visitors may not enter the facility more than 15 minutes prior to their appointment (30 minutes for naturalization ceremonies).
- Hand sanitizer will be provided for visitors at entry points.
- Members of the public must wear facial coverings that cover both the mouth and nose when entering facilities. Visitors may be directed to briefly remove their face covering to confirm identity or take their photograph. There will be markings and physical barriers in the facility; visitors should pay close attention to these signs to ensure they follow social distancing guidelines.
- Individuals are encouraged to bring their own black or blue ink pens.
Alka Bahal is a Partner and the Co-Chair of the Immigration Practice of Fox Rothschild LLP, specializing in corporate immigration law and compliance. Alka is situated in Fox Rothschild’s Morristown, New Jersey office though she practices throughout the United States and at Consulates worldwide. You can reach Alka at (973) 994-7800, or firstname.lastname@example.org.