People in the U.S. with temporary authorizations to work in the country have always faced uncertain futures amid immigration agencies’ constantly-changing policies. That uncertainty is elevated as the U.S. makes plans to protect employees from the spread of coronavirus.
The U.S. Department of State has cancelled visa interview appointments at most consulates and embassies around the world. Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has closed field offices and application support centers for at least a few weeks. The border between Canada and the U.S. has just announced closure to “non-essential travel.” Employer representatives and their employees are working from home.
To date, government agencies, including the Department of Labor, have not yet relaxed or altered requirements for: physically posting notices; timely filing paper applications with wet signatures; reviewing in-person I-9 documents for new employees; and departing the U.S. upon expiration of an authorized stay. We expect significant changes to the day-to-day requirements for immigration filings in the coming weeks.
Employers should take the following steps to remain compliant:
- Ensure that employees who are not authorized to work do not have access to company software (such as email) to avoid “working” from home.
- Prepare and file petitions and applications to extend immigration status as early as possible to avoid delays and to keep employees authorized to work – even beyond the expiration of their current status when that option is available.
- Apply for employees’ immigration statuses through a USCIS Service Center rather than at a border crossing or airport where possible.
- Ensure that employees who are traveling internationally have the proper immigration documentation and unexpired passports.
- Frequently monitor immigration updates directly from government websites.
- Consult your immigration attorneys before finalizing H.R. policy decisions with regard to working from home, temporary leave, salary reductions, closing business locations or terminating employees.