On July 31, 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a final rule that will adjust fees for specific immigration and naturalization benefit requests to “ensure U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services [USCIS] recovers its costs of services.”
On 13 July 2020, the UK Home Office published further details on the UK’s points-based system through a detailed policy statement regarding the changes to the UK immigration system due to come into effect from 1 January 2021, once freedom of movement with the European Union has ended. The document builds on the policy statement published in February 2020 and aims to provide “more detail to applicants, employers and educational institutions on the draft requirements and conditions underpinning the key immigration routes in the Points-Based System.”
On July 24, 2020, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) issued updated guidance for international students pursing education programs in the United States. The follow-up guidance states that active students in F-1 and M-1 status, as well as schools certified by SEVP, should abide by SEVP guidance originally issued in March 2020, enabling schools and students to engage in distance learning in excess of regulatory limits during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
On July 28, 2020, only six weeks after the Supreme Court of the United States blocked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, DHS issued a memorandum announcing plans to limit the scope of the DACA program, pending a comprehensive program review by the Trump administration.
On July 14, 2020, by means of executive order, the Trump administration announced that it will no longer recognize Hong Kong as a distinct autonomous region as compared to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
On July 14, 2020, the U.S. Department of State announced that U.S. consulates and embassies around the world have begun a phased resumption of routine visa services. The Department of State did not provide a specific timeline for the resumption of routine visa services, stating instead that the schedule will depend on local conditions at each consular post.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has agreed to rescind a proposed rule that would have required international students on F-1 and M-1 visas to either attend in-person classes at U.S. colleges and universities or face having to leave the United States.
In light of the Home Office now making regular policy announcements and issuing revised guidance, here are the main immigration law issues that employers may want to keep in mind in order to consider the implications of COVID-19 on their organisations.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently posted a set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) on its website to provide additional information on Revenue Procedure 2020-20. The IRS published this revenue procedure on May 11, 2020, to provide relief for certain nonresident aliens stranded in the United States due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions. The new FAQs provide relief for certain nonresident aliens who may be forced to remain in the United States longer than anticipated because of a medical condition. As indicated in our prior article on Revenue Procedure 2020-20, an extended stay could adversely affect a nonresident alien’s classification for federal income tax purposes.
On July 6, 2020, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced plans to update its online study policies for F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant students for the fall 2020 semester. According to the proposed policies, SEVP intends to prohibit F-1 and M-1 students from taking a fully online course load while in the United States during the fall 2020 semester.
COVID-19 has had significant implications on how employers engage a workforce—particularly with respect to U.S. immigration. The employment changes caused by the pandemic, combined with President Donald Trump’s recent proclamation prohibiting certain H1-B, H-2B, L-1, and J-1 visa beneficiaries from entering the United States, may forever change how U.S. employers engage non-U.S. nationals. In particular, without the opportunity to resume or start the employment of foreign nationals in the United States, employers are forced to consider remote cross-border engagements, including hiring foreign nationals in their home countries or, in cases where individuals are stranded away from home due to COVID-19-related restrictions, in other countries. The European Union’s recent announcement easing entry restrictions on some countries—but not the United States—signals that this phenomenon is relevant elsewhere as well.
Employers in the United States that sponsor foreign nationals for work visas may already be familiar with the various barriers their employees are facing when entering the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On June 22, 2020, the Trump administration issued a presidential proclamation suspending the entry of individuals to the United States on select nonimmigrant visas, including H-1B, H-2B, J-1, and L-1 visa holders, as well as their dependents.
On June 16, 2020, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced a second extension of its prior guidance relaxing the in-person verification requirements of Form I-9 for employers operating remotely due to COVID-19.
On May 29, 2020, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation suspending the entry of a small subset of Chinese nationals that seek to study or conduct research in the United States, citing a threat to the “long-term economic vitality” of the United States “and the safety and security of the American people.” The accompanying press release notes that the proclamation “will not affect students who come to the United States for legitimate reasons.”
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it will resume premium processing via Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service for Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker and Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers, in phases during the month of June.
Because of travel restrictions, such as canceled flights and stay-at-home orders, the COVID-19 pandemic may have significantly limited a nonresident alien’s ability to leave the United States, regardless of whether the individual contracted the COVID-19 virus. An unexpected extended stay in the United States, however, could affect an individual’s tax residency classification or eligibility for certain tax treaty benefits. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently released Revenue Procedure 2020-20 to address the potential tax consequences for eligible individuals impacted by the COVID-19 travel restrictions.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will reopen some domestic offices to resume non-emergency services on June 4, 2020. USCIS suspended routine in-person services on March 18, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In its ongoing response to the COVID-19 health crisis, the United States has announced travel restrictions for Brazil. President Donald Trump’s proclamation suspends the entry of all immigrants and nonimmigrants who were physically present in Brazil during the 14-day period before seeking to enter the United States.
Following the March 10, 2020, decision of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in ITSERVE Alliance, Inc. v. Cissna, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has agreed in a settlement to rescind the 2018 third-party worksites memorandum (PM-602-0157) in its entirety no later than October 13, 2020.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently asked Congress for $1.2 billion in emergency funding in order to continue operations. USCIS also intends to impose a 10 percent surcharge on new immigration applications to repay U.S. taxpayers for this emergency funding.
On May 14, 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency announced an extension of its prior guidance relaxing the in-person verification requirements of Form I-9 for employers operating remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On May 11, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a policy update in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that provides H-1B physicians holding J-1 foreign medical graduate waivers some limited flexibility in readjusting their hours and placement sites.
On May 12, 2020, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives unveiled the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, the latest effort to respond to the ongoing coronavirus health care crisis. Among other provisions, the $3 trillion relief package would provide $1 trillion in aid to states, $75 billion for coronavirus testing and related healthcare measures, and another round of direct stimulus payments to individuals.
On May 5, 2020, a bipartisan group of senators, including Senator David Perdue (R-GA), Todd Young (R-IN), John Cornyn (R-TX), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), introduced the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act (Senate Bill 3599). The goal of the proposed legislation is to temporarily address the country’s shortage of doctors and nurses, strengthen the healthcare workforce, and improve healthcare access during the COVID-19 crisis.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies and employees to adjust to new work arrangements, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has also reacted by temporarily relaxing a few of the I-9 verification requirements.
On May 1, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a policy update regarding assisting applicants and petitioners in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the press release, USCIS is extending the deadline to respond to certain agency requests.
Two federal courts recently issued decisions in favor of H-1B employers that could have an impact on the adjudication of H-1B petitions, especially information technology (IT) firms and those that seek to place employees at third-party worksites.
On April 24, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it intends to reopen field offices, asylum offices, and application support centers (ASCs) beginning on or after June 4, 2020.