Comments by Sanwar Ali:
If there has in reality been a temporary suspension of US Green Card applications it may only be due to coronavirus COVID-19. It seems a bit uncertain what is going on. If there is currently a “hold” on US Green Card applications made from within the US, hopefully, this will not last too long.
As we understand it, if true, any suspension to immigrant visa application processing made within the US is only relating to the adjustment of status part of the application. If Green Card applications had actually been specifically targetted for suspension, you would have expected a Presidential Executive Order relating to this. There is also mounting concern that there may be a suspension of certain US temporary work visas any time now, such as the H1B, L1. H2B visa categories and OPT for F1 visa students. It remains uncertain, if it happens, which US non-immigrant visa categories may be suspended.
There has been limited suspension of out of country US green card applications; this only applies to processing of the application at the US Embassy or Consulate later on in the process. The Trump administration may also have suspended some green card processing for migrants already living in the US. The apparent suspension adds to mounting speculation that US work visa programmes, including the H1B and L1 visa categories will also be temporarily suspended.
After reopening on June 4, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) informed staff that there will be a ‘general hold’ on permanent residency applications filed from within the US.
According to online publication Roll Call, a suspension on in-country green card applications was already in place, but it was unclear when it was implemented. Roll Call has reportedly seen emails and other internal communications confirming that the suspension was already in place.
Exemptions to the apparent Green Card suspension
In reality has there been a suspension of in-country green card applications because some USCIS offices have had to close temporarily, and now that some have opened, are giving priority to certain applications such as naturalization applications? There seems to be some confusion over this. USCIS has mentioned several exemptions to the apparent suspension, including applications made by medical professionals. USCIS said that US immigration officers will be permitted to process applications that are deemed an “emergent or sensitive matter” for their supervisors to consider for approval.
USCIS has cited the suspension of its in-person services amid the coronavirus for the halt on in-country green card processing. The government agency has said that its current priority is to resume US citizenship ceremonies, which have been delayed due to the pandemic.
In a statement, USCIS has also said: “We’re conducting emergent adjustment of status interviews and cases related to fighting COVID-19 and will begin to resume other in-person services in the future.” This adds somewhat to the confusion.
Additional guidance issued to USCIS staff wrong?
According to a report published by Buzzfeed News, USCIS staff have been issued with additional guidance concerning the temporary suspension of in-country green card applications. USCIS said that the guidance was issued in connection with Trump’s executive order signed in April that suspended US entry for most migrants.
Trump’s very limited initial executive order exempted US green card applicants already living in the country.
USCIS did acknowledge that information posted on an internal webpage used by staff at its headquarters to maintain a record of guidance contained ‘out of date information’. The page has since been removed.
USCIS said: “The dates in the post and the reference to the executive order were incorrect. This post has been removed and does not reflect current adjudication guidance.”
USCIS in financial trouble
Workpermit.com recently reported that USCIS faces an uncertain future amid financial troubles and has sought $1.2 billion in emergency funding from Congress. Despite resuming some of its services from June 4, senior officials at the agency have warned that it will have to start furloughing staff from July if financial support is refused.
However, a recent report by the Federal News Network claims that the potential date for furloughing some 13,400 USCIS staff, has been pushed back to August.
According to the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1924, the union representing USCIS workers, 70 percent of the agency’s workforce is likely to be furloughed if Congress fails to intervene.
A USCIS employee, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the majority of staff at the agency have been working remotely to handle US immigration cases outside of citizenship.
The employee, who processes applications for US residency, said: “For an agency in fiscal crisis, I have been assigned a shockingly low amount of applications that we can collect fees from.”
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