In light of the current medical and public health crisis that is affecting West Africans in three countries, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is constantly monitoring the Ebola outbreak and has proposed relief measures to assist those African nationals who are currently in the United States.
USCIS is taking these relief measures in large part due to the humanitarian concern for the African nationals but also as a practical matter. Since many airlines are no longer flying to the affected areas, it would not be fair to label the stranded African nationals as immigration law violators because they are forced to remain in the country through no fault of their own due to extraordinary circumstances beyond their control.
What are the Proposed Relief Measures?
USCIS has proposed that the following relief measures be made available to nationals from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, the three countries that are currently most adversely affected by the Ebola outbreak.
Approval of Late Extension or Change of Status Requests
USCIS states that it will approve applications that request a change of nonimmigrant status or those that request an extension of nonimmigrant status, and it will forgive the fact that a request may have been filed after the applicant’s authorized period of stay has expired.
Under normal circumstances, an applicant must be in authorized nonimmigrant status on the date that the applicant files a change of status or extension of status request with USCIS. However, given the ongoing Ebola emergency, USCIS adjudication officers are prepared to “forgive” late filings in order to facilitate the applicant’s ability to remain in the U.S. and avoid returning to face the public health crisis.
Expedited Approval of Employment Authorization Requests
USCIS also indicates that it will take steps to expedite the review and approval of F-1 students’ requests for off-campus employment authorization if the students are faced with a severe economic hardship.
Typically, USCIS has 90 days to review and make a decision on an employment authorization application. However, USCIS understands that three months is a long time to go without the financial support an applicant may have been receiving from his or her family but is not receiving any longer due to the Ebola outbreak. Therefore, USCIS officers will attempt to prioritize these applications.
Waiving Processing Fees for USCIS Applications
In further consideration of the economic hardship that may be facing African nationals, USCIS states that it is willing to waive some of the processing fees that are required for USCIS applications.
Under normal circumstances, nearly every USCIS application must be accompanied by the corresponding processing fee, which ranges from $290 (for the I-539 Application) to as high as $6,230 (for the I-924 Application). Given the financial hardships that applicants may be facing, USCIS may agree to waive a processing fee on a case-by-case basis.
To learn about the other relief measures USCIS is providing to foreign nationals, visit the USCIS website here.
It is exceptionally heartwarming to see USCIS provide these and other relief measures to the African nationals adversely affected by the Ebola outbreak in their home countries. Hopefully Congress will take a page out of USCIS’ book and move forward on comprehensive immigration relief for all foreign nationals in the United States.
More Blog Posts:
The Government’s War on H-1Bs, ImmigRantings, October 11, 2012
Obama Signs Immigration Executive Order, ImmigRantings, June 15, 2012
Problems with the H-1B visa: From Work Horse to Show Pony, ImmigRantings, February 13, 2012