USCIS Cancels All In-Person Interviews To Combat COVID-19

By Suzanne Monyak
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Law360 (March 17, 2020, 10:44 PM EDT) -- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is canceling all face-to-face appointments and events, including asylum interviews and citizenship ceremonies, in an effort to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus, the agency said Tuesday night.

Starting Wednesday, the agency will no longer hold asylum or other interviews at its field and asylum offices or conduct fingerprinting at its Application Support Centers, a USCIS spokesperson said. The suspension will last until at least April 1.

The spokesperson said USCIS offices will "continue mission-essential services that do not require face-to-face contact with the public."

"We continue to monitor this evolving pandemic and remain prepared to take difficult, but necessary, steps in order to protect the health and safety of our employees, applicants and the nation," the spokesperson said.

According to an agency alert, USCIS will send cancellation notices to people with interviews or naturalization ceremonies scheduled. Asylum interviews and biometric services appointments will be automatically rescheduled.

A USCIS representative didn't immediately respond Tuesday night to a request for more information, including on what services would be considered "mission-essential" and if the agency would continue to process requests to extend soon-expiring temporary visa statuses.

The agency also didn't reply to a question about the status of the upcoming H-1B visa lottery, which is scheduled to run at the end of March following a three-week electronic preregistration period.

The USCIS' decision comes as federal and state courts across the U.S. shut their doors, limit courthouse access and postpone jury trials, as COVID-19 spreads across the U.S.

U.S. consulates around the world are also scaling back and limiting visa services for foreigners.

Until Tuesday, USCIS had yet to release formal guidance, aside from encouraging people to reschedule appointments if they felt sick.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association called on USCIS in a Monday letter to adopt more flexible measures in light of the outbreak, including by waiving in-person signature and biometrics requirements and excusing tardy filings until the end of the public health crisis, which has prompted President Donald Trump to declare a national emergency.

AILA also urged the agency to postpone naturalization ceremonies and interviews.

--Editing by Breda Lund.

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