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How Does the COVID-19 Pandemic Affect Your Immigration Case?

How Does the COVID-19 Pan…

USCIS Budget Limitations

With the COVID-19 pandemic slowing down many government services in 2020, you may be wondering if processing times for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services have been affected. Although USCIS has continued to function during the pandemic, budget issues have caused slower operating times which may affect your personal case.

USCIS, an agency funded primarily by application fees, is underfunded this year because the pandemic has resulted in fewer immigration applications. The agency has recently increased barriers to application and has shifted its resources to vetting and fraud prevention, further reducing the total number of applicants.

The resulting financial crisis has forced USCIS to consider a furlough of nearly 13,000 employees. In this case, a furlough means requiring employees to take an unpaid leave of absence due to a smaller budget. However, the agency recently decided against such a furlough and instead reduced their overall operating budget. According to a USCIS report, this reduction will severely impact all operations including naturalization.

In short, the USCIS budget shortfall is a widespread issue which is likely to impact your immigration case. Under-funding has led to an average 20% increase in the price of applications as well as a processing backlog, meaning your application could be more expensive and could take longer to be approved. The agency is still seeking $1 billion in aid from Congress to resume normal operations, but Congress’ inability to pass an economic stimulus package has prevented USCIS from obtaining any additional funds.

Work Permit, Green Card, and Naturalization Slowdowns

USCIS’ COVID-19 Response explains certain slowdowns which may impede your ability to receive a work permit, green card, or naturalization. Because the pandemic closed USCIS offices nationwide, all interviews and biometrics appointments (fingerprints, photographs, etc.) were postponed. Though many offices have reopened with limited capacity, the lengthy closures created a backlog of applications and thus slowed down processing times for all applicants. Work and travel permits cannot be granted without biometrics, so your documents may be delayed until USCIS can work through their backlog.

For naturalizations, USCIS will reach out to applicants to reschedule appointments – there is no need to take any action yourself. Attendance will be limited to the naturalization candidate and an accompanying adult if the candidate is a minor or has a disability. If you have not received a reschedule notice within 90 days of your initial interview date, you may want to reach out to the USCIS Contact Center.

Consulate Interviews

If your immigration application has been approved and you are eligible for an available visa number, you will need to schedule an interview before you can receive a Green Card. If you are not already in the United States, you will have an appointment at a U.S. Department of State consulate in your current country of residence.

In March 2020, the Department of State responded to the pandemic by suspending visa services globally which included consulate interviews. However, the U.S. recognizes the importance of these services and has thus provided emergency visa services when necessary. Some consulates have also implemented virtual services, so it is possible yours may be conducting interviews over the phone or through video chat.

The status of your consulate will depend on the severity of COVID-19 in your area, so be sure to check if your local branch has resumed services yet. By the beginning of July, U.S. consulates began offering limited service worldwide, so it is certainly possible that your consulate now allows in-person interviews. If your consulate has not reached out to you to reschedule your interview, feel free to call them to inquire about the status of their operations.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has seriously affected United States immigration services through budget limitations, processing slowdowns, and office closures, it is still possible to continue your application process. With USCIS beginning to catch up on their backlog and certain consulates reopening, the situation is likely to improve with time. If you need any help understanding how COVID-19 may affect your personal immigration case, feel free to reach out to us at Ahmad & Associates. We are here to help.