Most immigration regular services in the United States will resume on June 4, when the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reopens some field offices and resumes routine in-person services that were suspended on March 18 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The agency said that it will follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s health protocols to protect its staff and the immigrant community. Therefore, immigration procedures in USCIS facilities, including asylum offices and application support centers, will no longer be as they were before the coronavirus pandemic.
As services are restored, the Department of Homeland Security agency plans to reduce the number of appointments and interviews to ensure social distancing rules, leaving more time for cleaning tasks and reducing the occupancy of waiting rooms.
“Appointment notices will contain information on safety precautions that visitors to USCIS facilities must follow,” the agency said in a news release on Wednesday, urging immigrants to cancel their appointments if they feel ill.
For immigrants in the United States, becoming a citizen is often a long and stressful process. USCIS explained that it will send notices to reschedule the ceremonies that were canceled, although it anticipates that these “may be shorter to limit exposure to those in attendance.”
“Instead of playing videos during naturalization ceremonies, attendees will receive a flyer with information and links directing them to the videos on the USCIS website.,” the federal agency said, clarifying that all legally required portions of the naturalization ceremonies will be carried out.
IMMIGRATION APPOINTMENTS AND INTERVIEWS AT USCIS
Immigration benefits applicants whose appointments and interviews were already scheduled and then canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic will automatically receive new appointment and interview notifications, according to the agency that last week told Congress it needs $1.2 billion in emergency funding amid plans to raise application fees.
People who had other appointments will need to reschedule them through the USCIS Contact Center once local offices are open to the public, the agency stipulated, without providing further details on which appointments.
“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,” said the agency, which handles citizenship, green card, visa, work permit and asylum claims.
Regarding asylum applications, USCIS explained that the interviews that were canceled during the closure will be rescheduled automatically. Applicants will then receive a notice with the new time, date and place.
The interviews may be carried out via video, with the applicants in one room and the official in charge in another one, in order to comply with social distancing rules.
“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,” the authorities said.
However, the statement does not mention court hearings for thousands of asylum-seekers waiting in Mexico under a program known as “Remain in Mexico.” Those hearings were first postponed from March 24 to April 22, and then through June 1, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
GUIDELINES FOR ENTERING USCIS FACILITIES DURING THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC
According to the new USCIS protocol, visitors cannot enter an agency compound if they:
▪ Present COVID-19 symptoms, such as cough, fever, or breathing difficulties.
▪ Have had close contact in the last 14 days with a person who is known or suspected to have contracted COVID-19.
▪ Have been quarantined or isolated by a healthcare provider or public health authority in the past 14 days.
For people who do enter:
▪ USCIS will not allow them to enter the offices more than 15 minutes before an appointment, or 30 minutes before if the person will participate in a citizenship ceremony.
▪ The agency will provide hand sanitizer at the entry points.
▪ People must wear masks to enter, although they might be asked to remove them briefly to confirm their identity.
▪ The agency asks immigration benefits applicants to bring their own black or blue ink pens.
HOW TO CONTACT USCIS DURING CLOSURE
USCIS continues to provide limited emergency services while their offices remain closed to the public.
There are also many digital resources and tools provided by USCIS to help immigrants obtain and track benefits.