With the challenging times for nearly everybody, uncertainty for immigrants is easily at its highest. This brief guidance is not intended as exhaustive legal advice; rather, it is a starting point for a few “what if” situations you or your sponsored workers may encounter. Please remember that specific factual situations require case-by-case analysis to ensure proper course of action and use these pointers to identify needs for consultations with immigration legal counsel.
No Receipt Notice:
With the pandemic and weather-related filing backlogs, USCIS has been experiencing significant delays with receipt notices issuance for multiple nonimmigrant and permanent immigration proceedings. In some cases, these delays have been 2 to 3 months and, on occasion, even longer. The first “line of defense” is to check on the status of filing fee checks submitted to the government since receipt notices follow the filing fees deposit to the government’s account. If the checks have been cashed, the best strategy is to patiently await the receipts; if not, consult your immigration attorney for the next steps. An inquiry with the government is possible, but may take an extended period of time for a response. Additionally, keeping in mind that Receipt Notices are being delayed, immigration filings should be filed with the government as early as possible, especially in “extension” or “renewal” cases where the Receipt Notice often provides a safeguard for validity of the current immigration status.
No Biometrics Appointment Scheduled or Rescheduled:
Not only are government appointments (notices to appear for fingerprinting and interviews) delayed these days, they also often do not happen due to either Covid-related or natural disaster reasons (e.g., severe inclement weather). If neither you nor your counsel have received an appointment notice and your case is within the government’s normal processing times (note: consult your counsel as to what constitutes “normal processing times” for your specific case), no follow up is necessary or helpful. Note: be sure that you keep the USCIS apprised of your address by completing Form AR-11 after every change in address, so that notices may be timely delivered to you. If your case is, indeed, delayed, a service request with USCIS may be helpful, but be prepared to wait 60 to 90 days for the government’s response.
If an appointment had been scheduled, but you have subsequently received a cancellation notice from USCIS, you need to wait for the government to initiate a reschedule. If you have received an appointment notice, but cannot attend, be sure to submit a reschedule request in writing before the appointment date and be sure to mail your request to the government through traceable means. You would also want to retain a copy of your correspondence along with proof of delivery.
If you had missed an appointment because you could not get to it due to sickness or inclement weather and had not notified USCIS in advance, you need to get in touch with the government as soon as possible, without waiting to hear from their offices. Again, be sure to retain copies of your mailings and proof of delivery as you will need this documentation if USCIS subsequently sends a notice of intent to deny your case and you have to prove your efforts to get in touch with their offices, even if belatedly.
If an appointment for biometrics is missed due to reasons outside of your control (e.g., USCIS office closure due to inclement weather), you may want to try going to the USCIS Center where you were scheduled as soon as possible, explaining the reasons for the missed appointment, and asking whether they would be amenable to completing your appointment at that time. This is completely within the specific USCIS office’s discretion, but if successful, may save you the trouble of needing to wait for the rescheduled appointment which may be scheduled for several months later. Even if successful in completing the appointment after the missed date, you should still contact USCIS as soon as possible to explain that the appointment was completed at a later date than the originally scheduled appointment.
Change of Circumstances and Plans:
COVID-19 has changed all of our lives and many immigrants are reconsidering their professional and immigration plans. What happens if you no longer wish to pursue an immigration proceeding that’s in progress or has been approved? Importantly, while it may currently feel that the change of plans is permanent, it is always best to have options. In the immigration world, this means timely notifying your legal counsel and the government regarding changes in your plans and intentions. For example, if you have immigration proceedings pending, but had left the U.S. in the meantime due to loss of job or for personal reasons, we recommend notifying USCIS through either withdrawal of the pending proceedings, request to reschedule an interview or another appointment, or requesting a continuance of proceedings (if and when applicable) rather than becoming a “no show.” To remind, keeping copies of any correspondence with the government is critically important for the future if you ever have to make an argument concerning your good faith and intentions in the immigration process.