Attys Ask USCIS Not To Punish Visa-Seekers Over Virus Fears

By Nadia Dreid
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Law360 (June 5, 2020, 8:55 PM EDT) -- The American Immigration Lawyers Association says it wants to make sure that applicants for U.S. visas aren't penalized if they choose to delay their appointments over fears about contracting COVID-19, as in-person immigration services start back up.

The bar association made its case on Thursday for a flexible and cautious approach to returning to business as usual, asking U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to consider suggestions aimed at ensuring the health of anyone with business before the agency.

Perhaps one of the biggest requests is that the agency "allow for appointments to be rescheduled for any reason without consequence."

This would ensure that anyone who doesn't feel safe coming into USCIS offices doesn't have to choose between keeping their paperwork on track and/or risking their health, according to the association's letter.

Certain in-person interview requirements should also be canceled, the group recommended, particularly those for people seeking permanent residency through their work and people seeking to reunite with their asylum and refugee relatives.

People should also have the option of allowing their attorney to call or videoconference into certain meetings to limit the number of people in the room at any one time, the group said.

The 10-page letter also includes filing suggestions that would help limit contact between individuals, such as allowing people to submit documents by email after their appointments.

While there has been a dramatic drop in the number of new coronavirus cases, the disease's spread across the country has already cause the deaths of more than 100,000 people. Experts have warned to brace another wave of infections as businesses and public places begin to reopen in most states following shutdowns.

After suspending most immigration services due to the pandemic, USCIS revealed late last month that it would begin reopening for in-person, non-emergency services on Thursday.

Precautionary measures published on the agency's website warn people that they won't be allowed into the building more than 15 minutes before their appointment and that they may be turned away if they don't have a mask, though the agency may also choose to provide them with one.

Hand sanitizer will be available, and people are encouraged to bring their own pens, the agency said.

--Editing by Nicole Bleier.

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