USCIS Announces Delays for H-1B Cap Processing & Nonimmigrant Extension/Change of Status Filings
USCIS announced a series of delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including extensions and change of status filings for nonimmigrants and H-1B cap petitions. USCIS offices have been temporarily closed for in-person appointments and much of the workforce is working remotely.
H-1B Cap-Subject Petitions
The H-1B cap filing window opened April 1, 2020 for registrations selected during the March registration period. Previously, USCIS announced that premium processing (guaranteeing a 15 day adjudication window) is suspended until further notice due to the pandemic. Petitioners are now advised that receipt notices will not be generated until at least May 1, 2020, but that intake processing will be done in the order in which the filings arrived at the service centers. Petitions will still be stamped on the date they arrive (if otherwise properly filed) and the receipt date will correspond with the actual arrival date to the service center.
While the receipt date should remain the same, this delay narrows the window for refiling if the case was “improperly filed” due to an error. Increasing the stress on petitioners is the discrepancy between the service centers noted on the registration selection notices, which reflected different service centers than indicated on the USCIS direct filing for I-129 webpage.
The filing windows are not being extended at this time and there is no indication this window will be extended. Petitioners are also asked not to make inquiries on any petitions until receipt notices are received. USCIS stated that:
“Due to delayed data entry and notice generation, there will be a general delay in processing FY 2021 cap-subject petitions. We are mindful of petitions with sensitive expiration and start dates, such as cap-gap petitions, and will strive to process these petitions as efficiently as possible.”
The announcement advised that all cap-subject petitions should be filed at the service center noted on the selection notice, but cases may be transferred between the Vermont, California, Nebraska, and Texas Service Centers to “balance the workload and enhance efficiencies.” All transferred cases will receive a notification in the mail with the new location.
Nonimmigrant Extension/Change of Status Filings
In the announcement warning of delays in processing, the Department of Homeland Security also hinted of more restrictive immigration policies:
“DHS also continues to take action to protect the American people and our communities, and is considering a number of policies and procedures to improve the employment opportunities of U.S. workers during this pandemic.”
The announcement acknowledges the existing options available to nonimmigrant visa holders, but despite the requests by many immigrant workers and supporting organizations, the notice does not provide guaranteed flexibility for those facing hardships due to COVID-19. USCIS shares the following options available:
- Apply for an Extension. Most nonimmigrants can mitigate the immigration consequences of COVID-19 by timely filing an application for extension of stay (EOS) or change in status (COS). U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services continues to accept and process applications and petitions, and many of our forms are available for online filing.
- If You File in a Timely Manner. Nonimmigrants generally do not accrue unlawful presence while the timely-filed, non-frivolous EOS/COS application is pending. Where applicable, employment authorization with the same employer, subject to the same terms and conditions of the prior approval, is automatically extended for up to 240 days after I-94 expiration when an extension of stay request is filed on time.
- Flexibility for Late Applications. USCIS reminds petitioners and applicants that it can consider delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic when deciding whether to excuse delays in filing documents based on extraordinary circumstances.
USCIS also notes that in certain situations, a late filing request for an extension or change of status may still be excused after the authorized period if it was “due to extraordinary circumstances beyond their control, such as those that may be caused by COVID-19.” The notice states that the “length of the delay must be commensurate with the circumstances” and that the individual must submit “credible evidence to support their request” which will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Visa Waiver Program/ESTA Update
Unlike visitor’s visas or other nonimmigrant visas, entrants in the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program are not eligible for extensions. However, the regulations provide for the concept of “Satisfactory Departure” under certain emergency situations, such as COVID-19. If Satisfactory Departure is approved, the individual must depart the U.S. within the approved period to be regarded as having made a timely departure without overstaying the allowed time. We previously explored options for requesting satisfactory departure for up to 30 days by contacting the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the appropriate port of entry.
In USCIS’s announcement on processing delays, the agency also states that for Visa Waiver Program entrants who have already been granted satisfactory departure but they are unable to depart within the 30 day period because of COVID-19 travel issues, USCIS can temporarily provide an additional 30-day period of satisfactory departure. To request satisfactory departure from USCIS, a VWP entrant should call the USCIS Contact Center.
Visit Challa Law Group’s COVID-19 Resource Page for Employers & Foreign Workers to read about other critical immigration updates or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.