U.S. Immigration Update on COVID-19

6 minute read
23 March 2020


Further to our alert of March 16, 2020, there continues to be numerous updates in U.S. immigration amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Non-essential travel ban at land crossings

The Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") issued a Notification of Temporary Travel Restrictions Applicable to Land Ports of Entry and Ferries Services Between the United States and Canada (the "Notification"). The land travel restrictions for the Canada-U.S. border were effective at 11:59 p.m. EST on March 20, 2020 and remain in effect for 30 days until 11:59 p.m. EST on April 20, 2020. The Notification is scheduled to be published on March 24, 2020. The unpublished document can be found at www.federalregister.gov/d/2020-06217.

The Notification has been implemented to reduce the risk of continued transmission and spread of COVID-19, while not interrupting the legitimate trade between the two countries or disrupt critical supply chains for critical goods and material including food, fuel and medicine. The Notification does not apply to air, freight rail or sea travel between the U.S. and Canada.

The Notification is a result of a mutual decision between the U.S. and Canada to temporarily suspend normal operations and limit the travel of individuals from Canada to the U.S. at land crossings to "essential travel". Essential travel is defined as including (but not being limited to):

  • U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the U.S.;
  • Individuals traveling for medical purposes (e.g., to receive medical treatment in the U.S.);
  • Individuals traveling to attend educational institutions;
  • Individuals traveling to work in the U.S. (e.g., individuals working in the farming or agriculture industry who must travel between the U.S. and Canada in furtherance of such work);
  • Individuals traveling for emergency response and public health purposes (e.g., government officials or emergency responders entering the U.S. to support Federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial government efforts to respond to COVID-19 or other emergencies);
  • Individuals engaged in lawful cross-border trade (e.g., truck drivers supporting the movement of cargo between the U.S. and Canada);
  • Individuals engaged in official government travel or diplomatic travel;
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the spouses and children of members of the U.S. Armed Forces, returning to the U.S.; and
  • Individuals engaged in military-related travel or operations.

Non-essential travel expressly includes individuals traveling for tourism purposes, including sightseeing, recreation, gambling or cultural events).

The COVID-19 travel ban applicable to air travel continues to apply. Details can be found at our previous alert and on the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

USCIS relaxation of original signature

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") announced that it will accept all immigration benefit forms and documents with copies of original signatures. This relaxation on the original signature requirement applies for U.S. immigration submissions dated on or after March 21, 2020. USCIS may request the original documents in the future at any time.

Suspension of Operations

  1. U.S. Embassies and Consulates

The Department of State has temporarily suspended routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates. Embassies and Consulates will continue to provide emergency and critical visa services. Services will also continue to be available to U.S. citizens.

Specific to Canada, the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa and all U.S. Consulates General in Canada have suspended routine consular services starting March 23, 2020. The services that have been suspended include routine passport and notarial services, immigrant and nonimmigrant visa services and visa interviews. Further details can be found at this link: https://ca.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information-Canada/.

  1. Trusted Traveler Programs

On March 19, 2020, the DHS announced the temporary suspension of all CBP Trusted Traveler Program Enrollment Centers until at least May 1, 2020. The closures include all public access to Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI and FAST enrollment locations.

I-9 Compliance

On March 20, 2020, the DHS announced that it is implementing flexibility to the normal requirements for I-9 compliance during the COVID-19 pandemic. The flexibility includes discretion concerning the physical presence requirements for Form I-9 for workplaces operating remotely. The exceptions do not apply to work locations where employees are physically present. The Form I-9 must still be correctly completed for new employees and updated when necessary, and the new Form I-9 version must be used starting no later than May 1, 2020.

What this means for individuals and employers

As the COVID-19 situation is quickly evolving, individuals traveling internationality or seeking to enter the U.S. should remain current on all travel restrictions and requirements. Employers should also be aware of continuing immigration compliance requirements and how best to manage their workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic. We recommend speaking to a U.S. immigration attorney if you have specific questions.

NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Information made available on this website in any form is for information purposes only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. You should not rely on, or take or fail to take any action based upon this information. Never disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking legal advice because of something you have read on this website. Gowling WLG professionals will be pleased to discuss resolutions to specific legal concerns you may have.