The current office closures, guidance from the CDC, and stay-at-home/shelter-in-place orders related to COVID-19 have created significant obstacles for attorneys and their clients who need to file immigration applications and other documents. NIJC provides the following guidance to pro bono attorneys preparing and filing documents for NIJC clients during these times. This guidance is based on information known as of March 23, 2020. Due to the rapidly evolving situation related to COVID-19, this guidance may become outdated quickly. Please click here for NIJC’s updates regarding the effect of COVID-19 on the immigration system and reach out to your NIJC point-of-contact with specific questions.
- Is USCIS able to receive filings during this time?
- Yes. USCIS in-person services are currently suspended until at least April 1, 2020, but offices remain open to receive filings by mail. Please note that because Application Support Centers (where biometrics are taken) are closed as part of the in-person service suspensions, USCIS is unlikely to be able to adjudicate applications and petitions that require biometrics at this time.
- As the attorney of record, can I sign USCIS applications or petitions on behalf of my client or have my client sign forms electronically?
- USCIS generally requires original signatures on all USCIS forms. For some forms, USCIS will accept copied, scanned, or faxed reproductions so long as the copy is of an original document that contained an original, handwritten signature and the attorney or applicant retained copies of the original documents containing the wet signature.
- On March 20, 2020, USCIS announced that during the COVID-19 National Emergency, it would accept copied, scanned, or faxed reproductions of all forms and documents, again, so long as the copy is of an original document containing a wet signature and the attorney/client retain the original document.
- Despite this temporary change in policy, NIJC remains concerned about USCIS’s future recognition of forms containing reproductions of signatures and recommends that attorneys continue submitting original, wet signatures on all applications and documents. If doing so would be impossible during the current emergency period, the attorney should contact their NIJC point-of-contact to discuss the potential risks and benefits of submitting a copied reproduction of a form.
- Can I submit USCIS applications or petitions online, rather than via mail?
- USCIS allows only a limited number of forms to be submitted electronically. The specific forms available for electronic submission are identified on the USCIS website here. Few of the forms are relevant to the types of matters pro bono attorneys handle through NJIC.
- Have any filing deadlines been tolled during this time period?
- No, at present all filing deadlines still remain binding, including one-year filing deadlines for asylum cases, U visa certification expiration dates, and employment authorization expiration dates. NIJC is involved in various advocacy efforts and inquiries with USCIS regarding these issues, but at present, there has been no change.
- Is the Chicago Immigration Court able to receive filings during this time?
- Yes, although all non-detained immigration court hearings have been suspended through April 10, 2020, the Chicago Immigration Court remains open to receive filings.
- As the attorney of record, can I sign applications or forms on behalf of my client?
- As with USCIS, the immigration court generally requires original signatures on all applications, forms, and filings. However, there may be flexibility with this requirement during this emergency period. In cases where it is impossible to file a document with an original signature, the attorney should contact their NIJC point-of-contact to discuss options.