On June 4, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices reopen for face-to-face services. However, applicants could soon pay more as USCIS has requested approval for a surcharge to be imposed on new cases.
USCIS has not stopped processing forms. This includes adjustment of status petitions, citizenship applications, and visa extension requests. USCIS handles immigration petitions, employment-based visa petitions, U.S. citizenship services, and issuing and renewing green cards and visas for individuals in the United States.
However, the agency had suspended in-person services beginning March 18, 2020, due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. In-person services at USCIS offices include green card interviews, U.S. citizenship tests, and U.S. citizenship oath ceremonies, which are all set to resume when USCIS offices reopen on June 4, 2020.
USCIS Requests 10% Surcharge on All Applications
On May 15, 2020, USCIS informed Congress that the agency faces a budget shortfall and requested $1.2 billion in funding to stay open. USCIS asked for approval of an additional 10% surcharge on all USCIS application fees in order to fund its operations.
USCIS fees can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Without the surcharge, the agency claims it will run out of money by summer 2020.
This proposed 10% surcharge is separate from the rule proposed by USCIS in November 2019 to increase fees for many types of cases. If approved, the average fee will go up 21 percent. For citizenship applications, the fee would go up 83 percent from the current amount, adding $530 to the total cost.
As a result, many applicants could face fees twice as high as today’s rates. This is a good reason to submit applications to USCIS as soon as possible to avoid paying more.
Fortunately for some, USCIS has granted extensions to applicants to respond to evidence requests in pending cases. The agency has also announced that application delays related to COVID-19 may constitute “extraordinary circumstances” that will permit late-filed visa extensions or adjustments of status that would otherwise be impossible.
USCIS Offices Reopen with Restrictions for Applicants and Petitioners
All applicants, petitioners, and visitors over the age of 2 must now wear face coverings to enter any USCIS facilities.
Visitors may not enter USCIS facilities more than 15 minutes prior to their appointment, or 30 minutes prior for naturalization oath ceremonies. USCIS encourages visitors to bring their own black or blue ink pens to interviews and appointments.
Offices will schedule fewer appointments and interviews to maintain social distancing. In addition, USCIS instructs people who feel sick not to appear and to contact USCIS to reschedule their appointments for when they are healthy.
USCIS will not allow individuals to enter its facilities if they have:
- any symptoms of COVID-19, including cough, fever or difficulty breathing;
- been in close contact with anyone known or suspected to have COVID-19 in the last 14 days; or
- been individually directed to self-quarantine or self-isolate by a health care provider or public health official within the last 14 days.
The only people allowed inside USCIS facilities are applicants with scheduled appointments and their:
- Interpreters (USCIS has said that applicants should arrange interpreter availability by phone if possible),
- Immediate family members listed as dependents on the application or interview notice,
- Individuals assisting a disabled person, and
- For minor applicants, the applicant’s parents, legal guardian, or a trusted adult.
USCIS will send notices to reschedule interviews, ASC appointments, and naturalization ceremonies postponed due to the office closures. For other appointments, individuals must contact the USCIS Contact Center to reschedule the appointment after the office reopens. This includes postponed InfoPass appointments.
For up to date information from USCIS, see this page: Listing of USCIS Office Closings
For USCIS visitor policy information, see the agency’s Policy Page.
Changes to the U.S. Citizenship Oath Ceremony
About 860,000 people are estimated to be in line to become U.S. citizens in 2020. To get through this backlog, USCIS is shortening naturalization ceremonies. The agency will only allow the naturalization applicant and individuals providing assistance to disabled persons to attend U.S. citizenship oath ceremonies.
After USCIS offices reopen, citizenship oath ceremonies will no longer include the traditional patriotic videos normally played. Instead, officials will hand out a flyer with links to watch the videos online. In some locations, naturalization applicants report attending their citizenship oath ceremonies in USCIS parking lots rather than inside the facility.
Dealing with COVID-19 Delays in Filing Adjustment of Status or Visa Extensions
USCIS continues to accept adjustment of status applications and visa extension requests.
Extensions of stay made after the applicant’s status has expired prior to filing an extension normally may not be approved unless the applicant can show that the delay was due to extraordinary circumstances as defined by law at 8 CFR 214.1(c)(4).
USCIS may consider delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as extraordinary circumstances when evaluating late filings of documents. However, applicants must submit credible evidence with their request. USCIS will evaluate requests on a case-by-case basis.
Response Due Dates Extended for USCIS Evidence Requests
On March 30, 2020, USCIS announced an extension for applicants and petitioners to respond to:
- Requests for Evidence,
- Notices of Intent to Deny,
- Notices of Intent to Revoke,
- Continuations to Request Evidence (N-14),
- Filing date requirements for Form I-290B Notice of Appeal or Motion, and
- Notices of Intent to Rescind and Notices of Intent to Terminate for regional investment centers.
In summary, if the deadline listed for a response is between March 1 and July 1, 2020, inclusive, USCIS will consider responses received within 60 calendar days after the due date listed before taking action on the case.
* * *
Joseph Alain Moro is an immigration lawyer and owner of Moro Legal, LLC, a law practice founded in Denver, Colorado. Joe helps people around the world get green cards and U.S. citizenship to live the American dream.
For more information, contact Moro Legal, LLC and schedule an attorney consultation.
Phone: +1 (303) 586-1955. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.