With the ongoing lockdowns and limited travel due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic visitors, students and certain visa holders who have been impacted by the pandemic are eligible for special reliefs that would enable them extend their stay in the United States. However, considerations for the same will be had based on individual cases and situations.
According to the USCIS, if a situation has occurs, that would prevent one from timely departing from the United States at the expiry of the authorized period of stay, then the Special relief assistance is available to those individuals. This also applies to individuals who have petitions/ applications pending with the USCIS.
Be informed though, that when applying for an extension or change of status due to a special situation that has prevented a planned and timely departure from the United States, the USCIS will take into consideration how the special situation prevented your departure. Further, If you do not apply for the extension or change of status before your authorized period of admission expires, your request may be denied. However, such a delay in filing will only be excused if it was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond your control. An example would be failure to timely file your paperwork due to the on going office closures, natural calamities, sickness etc. Considerations are had on a case by case basis, at the discretion of the USCIS.
A person applying for an extension of stay or adjustment of status based on the Special Relief, will be required to provide documentary evidence of those extraordinary circumstances. Depending on the applicant’s situation, the type of documentary evidence that will be required for production will vary.
Relief for Students with F1 Visas
Students who may experience severe economic hardship because of unforeseen circumstances beyond their control caused by Covid-19, may request for employment authorization so that they can be able to find work and work off-campus. An applicant will however be required to confirm that they meet certain regulatory requirements (See 8 CFR 214.2(f)(9)). Some of the reasons why a student would want to apply for a work authorization permit are:Loss of financial aid or on-campus employment, substantial fluctuations in currency value or exchange rate, inordinate increases in tuition or living costs, unexpected changes in financial condition from the source of support, medical bills or other substantial and unexpected expenses. The USCIS however notes that this is not an exhaustive or limiting list.
Students will be required to submit Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, along with a copy of Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, and any other supporting materials to USCIS. The student’s Form I-20 must include the employment page completed by an authorized school official, certifying eligibility for off-campus employment due to severe economic hardship caused by the unforeseen circumstances, like in this case the Covid-19 pandemic that has led to school closures. Applicants whose applications are approved, may be able to work off-campus in one-year intervals up to the expected date of completion of the student’s current course of study. See 8 CFR 214.2(f)(9)(ii).
Other Student Relief
Special Student Relief
The USCIS has certain discretionary special student relief program, where it may request the suspension of certain regulatory requirements by the secretary of Homeland Security for F‑1 students from parts of the world that are experiencing emergent circumstances. Examples of emergent circumstances include natural catastrophes, war, military conflicts, and national or international financial crises. In this scenario, a student may also be eligible to apply for off-campus employment authorization if they are a citizen of any such country specified in a Federal Register notice, has been lawfully present in the United States for the period indicated in the Federal Register notice, has reported on time to the designated school official and been enrolled in a student or exchange visitor program-certified school since the special situation, is currently maintaining F-1 status and experiencing severe economic hardship.
To apply, one must submit Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, along with a copy of Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, and any other supporting materials to USCIS.
Applicants Failing to Appear at Interview, Biometrics Appointment, or Failing to Respond to RFE
Applicants who may fail to appear for an in-person interview, biometrics appointment, or respond to a request for evidence in a timely manner for reasons that are not within the applicant’s control and are tied to the special situation, may be excused from any penalty if they can show how the disrupting event affected their ability to appear or submit documents as required.
If one is unable to pay the fee for a USCIS service or benefit, he/she may request a fee waiver by filing Form I-912 (Request for Fee Waiver). Note however that, the Fee waiver forms must be accompanied by your complete application for extension or adjustment of status and all other supporting documents.
Applicants may also file a request to expedite a service or benefit at the time of filing an application/petition, or after filing.