Employees in the green card process are seeing additional flexibility in processing as the COVID-19 national emergency continues to complicate the normal steps, and the government appears to be relaxing certain requirements.

All U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices have been closed to the public since March 18 and are not scheduled to reopen until at least May 4, creating delays for applicants needing to attend biometrics appointments and green card interviews.

However, in recent days the agency announced flexible rules on biometrics and appears to be waiving green card interviews in some cases where interviews have been canceled because of the office closures. On March 30, USCIS announced that it will process certain requests to extend employment authorization documents without a biometrics appointment by using the applicant’s previously submitted biometrics. This temporary measure, in place for the duration of the office closures, will mitigate delays and help prevent lapses in employment authorization.

Though the agency has not announced whether it will relax the interview requirement, some green card applicants whose appointments were canceled because of the COVID-19 office closures have seen their case status updated to indicate their adjustment of status application has been approved and have received their green cards in the mail shortly thereafter.

Additionally, green card applicants who file their application without the medical exam form or with an expired medical exam form normally receive a courtesy notice indicating that they should bring their medical form to the USCIS interview. More recently, however, USCIS has been issuing Requests for Evidence instructing green card applicants to mail the medical form to USCIS directly—another signal that the agency may be adopting a policy of waiving green card interviews for the time being for some applicants.

For employees in earlier stages of the green card process, the Labor Department is also taking temporary steps to ease the PERM labor certification process. On March 25 the department began issuing labor certifications and final determinations via email and will continue to do so at least through June 30. However, applicants and employers must still sign the labor certification with an original wet signature before filing the I-140 petition with USCIS. Unlike USCIS, which is accepting electronically reproduced original signatures on USCIS forms for the duration of the national emergency, the Labor Department has yet to authorize submission of photocopies of original wet signatures on labor certifications.

What should employers and employment-based immigrants expect from these agencies in the coming weeks? DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf indicated this week that USCIS is considering additional options to give flexibility to petitioners and applicants, but BAL anticipates that the agency will take a piecemeal approach rather than make wholesale changes (such as automatic extensions of status).

The Labor Department is likely to release guidance in the coming days that should clarify additional procedures during the national emergency and provide greater flexibility in requirements and timelines for employees in the green card process.

Heather Oh is a Senior Associate in the New York City office of Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP.

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