Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, agencies involved in the implementation and enforcement of immigration law have relaxed certain filing and other requirements.
The federal government intends to end the emergency declarations related to the COVID pandemic in May 2023. Not unexpectedly, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced yesterday the termination of what is likely to be the first of other COVID flexibilities to be terminated. The USCIS has ended its policy to allow extra time for applicants, petitioners, and requestors to respond to certain actions of the agency. Other flexibilities, such as allowing I-9 processing to occur virtually, may follow unless the USCIS allows a particular COVID policy to become permanent.
Effective today, the USCIS has discontinued the policy that provided an automatic 60-day extension to deadlines applicable to responses to certain requests or notices. The extension applied to the following requests or notices, provided that they were issued any time from March 1, 2020, through March 23, 2023:
- Requests for Evidence
- Continuations to Request Evidence (N-14)
- Notices of Intent to Deny
- Notices of Intent to Revoke
- Notices of Intent to Rescind
- Notices of Intent to Terminate regional centers
- Notices of Intent to Withdraw Temporary Protected Status
- Motions to Reopen an N-400 Pursuant to 8 CFR 335.5, Receipt of Derogatory Information After Grant
In addition, filings of Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion, or Form N-336, Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings (Under Section 336 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act) must comply with the deadlines in the form instructions regarding a decision dated after March 23.
The USCIS announcement allowed for the possibility that the agency may exercise discretion “to provide certain flexibilities on a case-by-case basis upon request, for applicants or petitioners affected by an emergency or unforeseen circumstance, such as natural catastrophes (hurricanes, wildfires, severe weather, etc.), national emergencies (public health emergencies), or severe illness (including COVID).”
In more positive news, the signature flexibility policy put into place during the pandemic has been made permanent.
In March 2020, the USCIS adopted a policy that allowed documents to be “scanned, faxed, photocopied, or similarly reproduced provided that the copy must be of an original document containing an original handwritten signature, unless otherwise specified.”
Effective July 25, this policy will be permanent.
Adoption of this policy is welcome news to immigration attorneys, petitioners, and applicants. The process of obtaining an original signature from someone who could be anywhere in the world was challenging, to say the least.
This policy still requires that the original signature page be retained so that it can be provided to the USCIS upon request. Failure to produce the original when requested “could negatively impact the adjudication of the immigration benefit.”
The USCIS had previously provided notice that the extension of the filing date flexibilities would end, barring any changes in the pandemic. Again, we expect all COVID flexibilities to end unless adopted by the USCIS as permanent policies.