WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) says that the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has given Caribbean and other nonimmigrants the opportunity to extend their stay in the US amid the coronavirus (COVID-19), provided that they file their applications in a timely manner.
USCIS said that DHS “recognizes that there are immigration-related challenges as a direct result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“We continue to carefully analyze these issues and to leverage our resources to effectively address these challenges within our existing authorities,” said USCIS in a statement.
“DHS also continues to take action to protect the American people and our communities and is considering a number of policies and procedures to improve the employment opportunities of US workers during this pandemic.
“Generally, nonimmigrants must depart the United States before their authorized period of admission expires. However, we recognize that nonimmigrants may unexpectedly remain in the United States beyond their authorized period of stay due to COVID-19,” USCIS added.
Should this occur, USCIS said nonimmigrants can mitigate the immigration consequences of COVID-19 by “timely filing an application for extension of stay (EOS) or change in status (COS).”
USCIS said it continues to accept and process applications and petitions, and that nonimmigrants generally do not accrue unlawful presence “while the timely-filed, non-frivolous EOS/COS application is pending.”
Where applicable, it said employment authorization with the same employer, subject to the same terms and conditions of the prior approval, is automatically extended for up to 240 days after the I-94 visa expiration when an extension of stay request is filed on time.
USCIS reminded petitioners and applicants that it can consider delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic when deciding whether to excuse delays in filing documents based on extraordinary circumstances.
“Under current regulations and as noted on our Special Situations page, if a petitioner or applicant files an extension of stay or change of status request (on Forms I-129 or I-539) after the authorized period of admission expires, USCIS, in its discretion, may excuse the failure to file on time if it was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond their control, such as those that may be caused by COVID-19,” the statement said.
USCIS said the length of delay must be “commensurate with the circumstances,” adding that the petitioner or applicant must submit “credible evidence to support their request, which USCIS will evaluate on a case-by-case basis.”
It said these special situations have been used at various times in the past, including for natural disasters and similar crises.
USCIS said while Visa Waiver Program (VWP) entrants are not eligible to extend their stay or change status, under current regulations, if an emergency, such as COVID-19, prevents the departure of a VWP entrant, “USCIS in its discretion may grant a period of satisfactory departure for up to 30 days.”
“For those VWP entrants already granted satisfactory departure and unable to depart within this 30-day period because of COVID-19 related issues, USCIS has the authority to temporarily provide an additional 30-day period of satisfactory departure,” the statement said.