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Kolko & Casey is here to assist during the COVID-19 Health Crisis

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Dear Kolko & Casey clients, friends and community:

During these difficult and unpredictable times, we wanted to reach out and let you know that we are here.

We remain dedicated to our Firm’s mission to contribute to the enhancement of the United States by providing creative and high-quality immigration legal services to families, businesses and individuals, with a commitment to superior customer service and communication in a collegial and supportive environment.

Our goal is to ensure that our clients understand current developments related to the COVID-19 health crisis and how these developments may affect their current immigration status. This includes the timing of pending petitions, the status of immigration removal proceedings and various obligations before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Justice (DOJ), U.S. Department of State (DOS) and the Department of Labor (DOL).

It is important to understand that your immigration matters do not need to be placed on hold. We can, and will continue to assist with your immigration matters. Below, we offer an outline of our office’s current operations, address some common questions we are receiving and outline the various immigration agencies’ current operations. The information below is general information and should not be considered specific legal advice. As always, if you have a specific legal question or matter, it is important to consult with an experienced immigration attorney. We will update this information as developments unfold.

Kolko & Casey, P.C. Offices: Our attorneys and staff remain available to serve you. With orders from the Governor of Colorado and Mayor of Denver directing non-essential workers to shelter in place, the large majority of our staff and attorneys will be working from home. We are able to send documents securely for review and signature. We have temporarily suspended all in-office meetings but are available for meetings via video and telephone conference.

Immigration Case Processing: Many of you are concerned about whether your applications for immigration benefits or your court cases will continue to proceed during this crisis. The short answer is yes; the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Service Centers remain open and are accepting cases for adjudication. The Immigration Courts have temporarily cancelled hearings through April 10, 2020, but those cases will be rescheduled as soon as possible. We have included a detailed discussion of the various agency operations below.

Unemployment Benefits: Unfortunately, one of the most common questions we are receiving is whether applying for and/or receiving unemployment benefits can negatively affect a person’s immigration status or eligibility for an immigration benefit in the future. The short answer is “no.” If you are otherwise qualified (under applicable state law) to receive unemployment benefits, the receipt of unemployment benefits should not negatively affect your immigration status. We encourage you to review the detailed discussion of this issue by our Senior Associate Attorney Angela Cifor at the following link: “Unemployment Benefits Are Exempt From Public Charge Ground of Inadmissibility

Employer Questions: Many employers are concerned about the impact of a furlough, temporary salary reduction, or even layoffs of employees who are in the United States on work visas / nonimmigrant status. Employers are concerned about the impact on their employees’ immigration status as well as potential liability to the employer in this scenario. The rules around temporary furloughs and salary reductions depend on a variety of factors including the employee’s nonimmigrant status and specific attestations made by the employer. We suggest that you reach out to your attorney directly with specific questions on these issues. We are available by phone and video conference to consult with you on these matters. We also encourage you to review a detailed discussion of this issue as related to H-1B employees by our Senior Associate Attorney Jessica D. Bunnell at the following link: “Layoffs, Terminations, & Other Employment Changes for H-1B Workers in Light of COVID-19

Employers may also be concerned about their ability to comply with strict I-9 requirements, including the requirement to verify newly hired employees’ identity and employment authorization documents in the employees’ presence. On March 20, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security announced flexibility with the physical inspection of documents, and will temporarily permit the inspection of documents remotely, with specific annotations on the I-9 Form to document the remote inspection. For additional information and legal counsel about these relaxed requirements, we encourage you to consult with an experienced immigration attorney.

U.S./Canada and U.S./Mexico Borders: The DHS has announced that between March 21, 2020 and April 20, 2020, our northern and southern borders will be closed to “non-essential” traffic, which is currently defined as “travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature.” This suggests that travel by U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and those on nonimmigrant visas including work, student and exchange visas should still be able to travel to and from Canada and Mexico. However, in light of the rapidly changing policy and increased restrictions, we strongly encourage you to consult with an experienced immigration attorney prior to any international travel.

Visa Waiver Program (VWP) / Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA): Some foreign nationals have traveled to the United States under the VWP / ESTA, with authorization to remain for no more than 90 days. With the current COVID-19 crisis, some foreign nationals are unable to timely depart the United States and are concerned about the impact of overstaying their 90-day period in the United States. Individuals who are unable to depart the United States due to COVID-19 issues many be able to request a period of Satisfactory Departure for up to 30 additional days in the United States. If you are in need of a Satisfactory Departure request, we encourage you to contact an experienced immigration attorney who can provide specific instructions regarding the appropriate method of seeking Satisfactory Departure authorization.

IMMIGRATION AGENCIES
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS): the agency that adjudicates applications for immigration benefits remains in operation. This means that we can continue to prepare and file your applications for lawful permanent residency, waivers, employment authorization documents (EADs), naturalization, and nonimmigrant visa petitions (B-2, E, F-1, H-1B, H-2B, L, O, P, Q, U, etc.) with the Agency and that USCIS will continue to review and issue decisions on these cases.

USCIS has announced a temporary closure of its field offices through April 7, 2020, (at the time of this update on March 25, 2020) and Application Support Centers (ASCs), which means that interviews and Biometrics appointments will be rescheduled and held at a later date. These cancellations mean that some cases requiring interview and/or processing of Biometrics could be delayed.

USCIS has also announced the temporary suspension of Premium Processing, which means that I-129 and I-140 petitions previously eligible for expedited processing (adjudication within 15 days of filing) will not be expeditiously adjudicated. Once Premium Processing is reinstituted, it should be possible to “upgrade” qualified pending petitions to Premium Processing in order to obtain a decision expeditiously.

Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) - Immigration Courts: the majority of U.S. immigration courts nationwide have announced a temporary cancellation of all hearings (both Master Calendar Hearings and Individual Hearings). The glaring exception to this are the Immigration Courts located in Immigration Detention facilities; those courts remain open and are conducting hearings. Locally, the Denver Immigration Court (non-detained) has cancelled all hearings through April 10, 2020. The Aurora Immigration Court at the GEO Detention Facility is open. We continue our on-going representation of individuals in immigration removal proceedings. We continue to hold legal consultations for individuals in removal proceedings via video and telephone and are available to help.

Department of State – U.S. Embassies and Consulates: As of March 20, 2020, the U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide that issue immigrant and nonimmigrant suspended routine visa (immigrant and non-immigrant) visa services. However, each embassy and consulate has its own specific rules and guidelines. Emergency visa appointments do remain available. Most individuals seeking to apply for and receive a visa to travel to the United States will have to wait until the COVID-19 Health Crisis subsides. If you have specific questions about these embassy suspension of visa processing will affect your immigration case, please do reach out to us. We are here to help.

We wish all of you good health and calm during this difficult period.

All the best,

David Kolko & Jennifer Casey

KOLKO & CASEY, P.C.

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Kolko & Casey, P.C. is a full service immigration and naturalization law firm providing professional legal services to individuals and businesses throughout Colorado, the Rocky Mountain West, the United States, and the World. Our professional staff speaks English, Spanish, Korean, and Portuguese and we can arrange for translators in any other language.