Statutes of Liberty: COVID-19 — Our Experience at the Local USCIS Field Office During the Pandemic

This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq. and Doran Shemin, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do many things in our everyday life.

We are encouraged to do video calls with doctors, wear masks to go grocery shopping and stay six feet apart from others, especially indoors. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has also implemented new measures to ensure the safety of immigrants and USCIS employees alike during interviews for immigration benefits.

USCIS began interviewing applicants again in June. Now, interview notices include safety precautions regarding COVID-19.

Applicants are instructed not to arrive more than 15 minutes before their interview so USCIS can maintain social distancing measures in the waiting room. All USCIS employees and security wear masks, and applicants are also required to use a mask to enter the building.

If the applicant does not have a mask, USCIS may decline to do the interview and will reschedule the interview for another day. USCIS even requests that applicants bring their own black or blue pen so applicants and USCIS employees do not have to share pens during the interview.

USCIS has also restricted the number of people who can attend appointments. Normally, the applicant, attorney and interpreter, when necessary, were all permitted to enter the office for the interview. However, during the pandemic, applicants are only allowed to bring an attorney to the interview unless the applicant has a disability and requires assistance from another person. Attorneys are also permitted to appear telephonically.

If the applicant needs an interpreter, the interpreter must be available by phone unless told otherwise. During a recent visit to the field office, a USCIS employee respectfully asked an interpreter to leave the waiting room and wait outside for a call to participate in the interview.

We noted various bottles of hand sanitizer throughout the office and staff cleaning frequently-touched objects as well.  USCIS also installed glass partitions at the reception desk and in individual offices. USCIS officers keep their office doors open to keep air circulating.

Otherwise, everything seems to be functioning normally at the Washington Field Office in Fairfax. The officers began the appointments in a timely manner and apart from the partitions and face coverings, it felt like any other pre-pandemic interview.

We appreciate that USCIS has taken appropriate measures to maintain everyone’s safety while ensuring that the officers can still conduct these important and frequently life-changing, interviews.

As always welcome your thoughts and comments and will do our best to respond.

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