The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered shock waves around the world over the past year and a half. Corporations, sports leagues and government agencies have all felt the effects of downtime and unsafe conditions. Immigration was no different.
David Leopold, chairman of the Ulmer and Bern immigration group in Cleveland, and Maya Lugasy, assistant attorney at Brown Immigration Law in Cleveland, said the temporary shutdown and subsequent slowdown in U.S. citizenship and immigration services created a chain reaction that continues to attract immigrants concerns and their families today.
Citizenship and immigration services closed in March 2020 but reopened for restricted services in July 2020. In the initial stages of the pandemic, all offices were closed. For this reason, the processing of almost all data has been delayed, said Lugasy. Every scheduled interview has been canceled and every fingerprinting appointment has been canceled, she said.
After reopening, Lugasy said they had to deal with the massive backlog of cases and postpone people for interviews that had to be canceled. The offices slowly began to reschedule either canceled interviews or reschedule interviews that were ready to be rescheduled. Due to the hygiene protocols, they could only do a few per day.
“They’d have to tidy up the whole office between each interview,” says Lugasy. “They had the plastic or glass partitions between you and the officer, everyone wore masks, they had to keep the doors to their office open, you had to bring your own pen, you weren’t allowed to have an interpreter come” personally, they had to be reachable by phone. So it was definitely different. But until recently they did it for a while. “
Leopold said the most notable hiccup was visa processing abroad. Individuals entering the country apply internally, then apply for their visa abroad at a US consulate. That is still a problem today, said Leopold. Many consulates were closed during COVID making it very difficult to issue visas for many months.
“It not only affected immigrants, but also temporary visitor visas,” said Leopold. “Then there were a number of entry restrictions for countries. There are Brazil, China, Iran, Ireland, the entire Schengen region, Great Britain, South Africa and India. Most non-nationals who have been in any of these areas within 14 days of entering the United States are banned from entry. That makes traveling from Europe or one of these other countries extremely complicated. “
There are exceptions, explained Leopold. Exceptions are US citizens, green card holders, anyone married to a citizen, anyone married to a green card holder, or members of the U.S. Armed Forces. For everyone else, approval to enter the US can take weeks.
“For example, if a researcher works here in Cleveland, that researcher lives in India and wants to go home to visit his dying father,” said Leopold. “You can do one of two things. They can try to obtain a national return exemption or they can spend 14 days in a third country not covered by the ban. So it’s pretty complicated. “
Lugasy said things are slowly accelerating. In the meantime, she tries to be as open to her customers as possible just to let them know about the current situation and meet their expectations.
“But I am also seeing some positive improvements in the authorities that manage and handle immigration grants,” Lugasy said. “We have only been eight months this year and they are still confirming the agencies’ leadership positions. So I hope this maybe makes things a little more efficient. I notice certain applications that are getting shorter turnaround times. Unfortunately, there is not much I can do if it is a national issue. … It seems like this administration prioritizes making things run smoother and better, and hopefully this translates into faster turnaround times, faster turnaround times, more responsive customer service options, and the like. “