On Wednesday, May 27, 2020, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) announced new details in the agency’s plan to reopen individual offices to the public starting on June 4, 2020. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, in-person services at USCIS offices have been suspended (except for certain emergency situations) since March 17, 2020.
USCIS stated that it will “gradually and safely resume in-person services” based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s guidelines, including measures for social distancing. USCIS stated that appointment notices will contain information on the safety precautions required to enter USCIS facilities.
While USCIS has not yet provided detailed information on the specific measures it will implement when reopening its offices to the public, May 27, 2020, USCIS announcement includes the following changes in response to the Covid-19 pandemic:
New Guidelines for Entering USCIS Facilities
- Visitors may not enter a USCIS facility if they:
- Have any symptoms of COVID-19 (including cough, fever or difficulty breathing);
- Have been in close contact with anyone known or suspected to have COVID-19 within the last 14 days; or
- Have been individually directed to self-quarantine or self-isolate by a health care provider or public health official within the last 14 days.
- Members of the public must wear facial coverings or masks that cover both the mouth and nose when entering facilities. If they do not have a facial covering or mask, USCIS may reschedule their appointment.
- Visitors may not enter the USCIS facility more than 15 minutes prior to their appointment (30 minutes for naturalization ceremonies).
- Hand sanitizer will be provided at USCIS entrances.
- USCIS may install markings and physical barriers for social distancing purposes
- Visitors may be required to answer health screening questions before entering a USCIS facility.
- Applicants and visitors are encouraged to bring their own black or blue ink pens.
New Asylum Interview Procedures
- USCIS asylum offices will automatically reschedule asylum interviews that were canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Asylum applicants will receive a new interview notice with the new time, date, and location for the interview and information about safety precautions.
- Asylum offices expect to conduct asylum interviews using video conferencing technology, where the applicant(s) sit in one room and the interviewing officer sits in another room. USCIS has stated that asylum offices will provide technology, including mobile devices, to ensure that the officer, applicant, interpreter, and representative can fully and safely participate in the interview while maintaining social distancing.
- For affirmative asylum interviews, applicants must bring all immediate family members listed as dependents on the application and an interpreter, if the applicant does not speak English. Additionally, an attorney or representative, witness, individual providing disability accommodations, or “trusted adult” (if an applicant is a minor) may attend the interview.
- For non-detained credible or reasonable fear interviews, individuals must bring any family members listed on the interview notice. Attorneys or representatives may attend credible and reasonable fear interviews but are encouraged to participate by phone. USCIS will provide contracted, professional interpreters for credible and reasonable fear interviews.
- Applicants are instructed not to go to the USCIS asylum office if they are feeling sick. Applicants feeling sick should follow the rescheduling instructions on the appointment notice. There is no penalty for rescheduling your appointment if you are sick.
Changes to Naturalization Oath Ceremonies
- USCIS will send new appointment notices to applicants and petitioners to reschedule naturalization ceremonies that were postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
- USCIS has stated that naturalization ceremonies may be shorter in order to limit exposure to those in attendance, but that all legally required portions of the ceremony will still take place under the shorter format. USCIS will not play videos during naturalization ceremonies but will provide a flyer with information and links to the videos on the USCIS website.
- Attendance at naturalization ceremonies is limited to the candidates who are scheduled to be naturalized, a parent or trusted adult if the candidate is a minor, and individuals providing disability assistance to a candidate.
Field Office Appointments and Rescheduling
- USCIS field offices will send new appointment notices to applicants and petitioners with previously scheduled appointments and interviews that were canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic
- Visitors are limited to the applicant, one attorney or representative, and one family member or individual providing disability accommodations.
Application Support Center (ASC) Appointments and Rescheduling
- USCIS will send new biometrics notices for those whose appointments were canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, or otherwise notify applicants that their biometrics can be reused without a new appointment.
- USCIS will resume in-person processing of biometrics at certain Application Support Centers, but applicants should check the USCIS office closings page to confirm that the specific ASC has reopened before going to an appointment.
- Individuals who appear at a date or time other than what is listed on the ASC appointment notice may encounter significant processing delays.
- Applicants may only be accompanied by an interpreter, attorney, parent/legal guardian of a minor or individual providing assistance to a disabled person.
For more details on USCIS policies in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, please visit the USCIS Response to COVID-19 webpage.