Immigration-related Executive Actions During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump Administration has issued at least 48 policy changes affecting almost every facet of the immigration system. Some of these policies have been temporary and a necessary proportional response to the varied effects of COVID-19. Other policies are reasonable changes but are of indefinite duration, allowing restrictions to potentially remain in place long after they are no longer necessary. For other policies, the administration has used the pandemic as pretext to implement dramatic immigration restrictions that have been part of the Trump Administration’s immigration objectives since long before the spread of COVID-19.

Due to the sheer volume of these actions and the speed with which they have been implemented, the difference between proportional response and agenda-driven restriction can be obscured. This list seeks to provide some clarity, separating the changes by those impacted and highlighting indefinite and particularly concerning actions.

ACTIONS IMPACTING VULNERABLE POPULATIONS

ACTIONS IMPACTING INTERNATIONAL TRAVELERS

ACTIONS IMPACTING ESSENTIAL IMMIGRANT WORKERS

ACTIONS IMPACTING INDIVIDUALS WITH PENDING IMMIGRATION COURT CASES

ACTIONS IMPACTING INDIVIDUALS SUBJECT TO INTERIOR ENFORCEMENT AND REMOVAL

ACTIONS IMPACTING TRAVEL OF US CITIZENS AND RESIDENTS

 

ACTIONS IMPACTING VULNERABLE POPULATIONS

1. Asylum Seeker Ban – Concerning Action

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Returns, without due process, anyone without authorization to enter the U.S. detained along the southern border to their home country.
  • Includes rapid removal of all asylum seekers and unaccompanied children arriving at the border seeking protection, even if they express fear of persecution upon return.
  • Asylum restrictions have been a significant part of the administration’s immigration agenda, including numerous efforts by the administration beginning years before the onset of the pandemic.

2. Refugee Entry SuspensionConcerning Action

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Pauses all refugee resettlement to the U.S. following the suspension of all resettlement activities by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). U.S. volunteer agencies assisting with refugee resettlement remain open.
  • Other countries and international organizations dealing with refugees have implemented similar suspensions.

3. UAC Placement Restrictions

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) stops placing unaccompanied alien children (UACs) in homes or shelters near states significant COVID-19 outbreaks. As of March 26, these included California, New York, and Washington.

4. MPP Hearings Postponed

Date

  • Implemented March 23, 2020 for 30 days (DHS Statement)
  • Further postponed April 30, 2020 for 30 days (DHS Statement)
  • Further postponed May 10, 2020 for 43 days (DHS Statement)
  • Further postponed June 16, 2020 for 30 days (DHS Statement)

Summary and Context:

 

ACTIONS IMPACTING INTERNATIONAL TRAVELERS

5. Suspension of Legal Immigration – Concerning Action

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Suspends certain categories of permanent immigration from abroad, including pending green card petitioners, spouses and children of lawful permanent residents, and pending diversity visa applicants.
  • Requires federal agencies to review nonimmigrant programs to assess potential changes.
  • The suspension represents a continuation of numerous actions restricting legal immigration implemented since the beginning of the administration. This suspension is also the first COVID-19 linked immigration restriction in the world that has been based on an economic rationale rather than a public health one.
  • While the proclamation applies only to those applying for green cards from abroad, recent reporting suggests that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) used it as guidance to suspend green card requests from within the the U.S. as well.

6. Proclamation Expanding and Extending Immigration Suspensions – Concerning Action

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Extends April 22 suspensions of some permanent immigration from abroad and adds additional restrictions on prospective H-1B, H-2B, L, and certain J visa applicants who are abroad on the date of enactment.
  • Directs federal agencies to issue further restrictions via regulations regarding high-skilled H-1B visa recipients and others.
  • Could prevent hundreds of thousands of prospective immigrants and temporary workers from entering the U.S., and will have immediate impacts on some 2020 H-1B lottery winners and family and diversity-based immigration programs.
  • The suspension is a continuation of numerous actions restricting legal immigration implemented well before the COVID-19 pandemic.

7. Suspension of Visa Appointments Concerning Action

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Cancels all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments, effectively pausing almost all legal immigration to the U.S. Only emergency appointments are allowed.
  • Some limited nonimmigrant categories associated with the essential workforce have been exempted from appointment requirements.
  • Extended in April after the Legal Immigration Suspension to clarify that the visa appointments would also be suspended for those exempt from that Presidential proclamation.

8. Chinese Graduate Student Ban

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Suspends entry into the U.S. for Chinese nationals on F and J visas (except for undergraduates) who have in the past participated in research or studies connected to the People’s Republic of China and its “military-civil fusion strategy”
  • The ban would apply only to those who are studying in a field related to the “civil-military fusion strategy.

9. China Travel Ban

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Bans entry of those who were present in China in the prior two weeks, except for lawful permanent residents (LPRs), U.S. citizens and their direct family members.

10. U.S. Citizen Quarantine – China

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Screening and self-quarantine required for all U.S. citizens who were present in China in the previous two weeks. 

11. Flight Requirements – China

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Requires all flights with passengers who have been in China in the last 14 days to undergo screening at one of eleven locations.
  • Modified on February 7 to increase the list of authorized screening locations. 

12. China Visa Suspension

Date:

  • Implemented February 1, 2020 for 4 days
  • Reimplemented indefinitely February 10, 2020 in certain cities (Embassy Statement)

Summary and Context:

  • Total closure of embassy visa offices, initially throughout all of China. Extended indefinitely in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenyang.

13. Iran Travel Ban

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Bans entry of those who were present in Iran in the prior two weeks, except for LPRs, U.S. citizens and their direct family members.

14. Flight Requirements – Iran

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Requires all flights with passengers who have been in Iran in the last 14 days to undergo screening at one of eleven locations.

15. European Travel Ban

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Bans entry of those who were present in Europe (Schengen Area) in the prior two weeks, except for LPRs, U.S. citizens and their direct family members.

16. Flight Requirements – Europe

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Requires all flights with passengers who have been in the European Schengen Area in the prior two weeks to undergo screening at one of thirteen locations.

17. Britain and Ireland Travel Ban

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Bans entry of those who were present in Britain and Ireland in the prior two weeks, except for LPRs, U.S. citizens and their direct family members. 

18. Flight Requirements – Britain and Ireland

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Requires all flights with passengers who have been present in Britain and Ireland in the prior two weeks to undergo screening at one of thirteen locations.

19. Brazil Travel Ban

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Bans entry of those who were present in Brazil in the prior two weeks, except for LPRs, U.S. citizens and their direct family members.

20. Restriction of Nonessential Travel on the U.S.-Mexico Border

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Bars all nonessential travel across the U.S.-Mexico border, including tourism and day shopping.

21. Restriction of Nonessential Travel on U.S.-Canada Border

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Bars all nonessential travel across the U.S.-Canada border, including tourism and day shopping.

 

ACTIONS IMPACTING ESSENTIAL IMMIGRANT WORKERS

22. Closure of USCIS Offices – Concerning Action

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Closes U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices and suspends routine services. Impacts all temporary workers, international students and trainees, DACA and TPS holders, and other immigrants who need to access processes such as renewing work authorizations or naturalization from inside the U.S.
  • Results in significant financial shortfall for USCIS, which depends almost exclusively on processing fees.

23. Suspension of Premium Processing for Worker Petitions – Concerning Action

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Stops allowing expedited processing of I-140 and I-129 employer petitions for foreign workers.
  • Impacts hundreds of thousands of potential workers and businesses, including hospitals and healthcare providers.

24. Student Visa Flexibility

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Allows “temporary adaptations” for students and Optional Practical Training program workers to participate in remote learning or telework.
  • Modified in July to require that all F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not remain in the United States.

25. Guestworker Visa Processing Allowance

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Resumes processing for H-2A seasonal farmworkers and H-2B seasonal nonagricultural workers despite suspension of routine embassy visa services.

26. Waiving of In-Person Requirement for I-9 Processing

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Waives requirement to inspect employment ID documents for remote workers.

27. Issuance of Labor Certifications Offered Electronically

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Allows PERM labor certifications, required before employers can hire certain foreign workers, to be issued electronically.

28. Waiver of Interview Requirement for Some Temporary Guestworkers

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Waives in person visa interviews for certain H-2A seasonal farmworkers and H-2B seasonal nonagricultural workers.

29. Waiver of Biometric Submission for Those with Records on File

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Allows those, including DACA recipients, to renew their work authorization without needing to resubmit biometric data.
  • This will remain in effect until Application Support Centers (ASCs) are open for appointments to the public.

30. Expansion of Flexibility for those Responding to USCIS Requests

Date:

  • Implemented March 27, 2020 for 60 days (USCIS Statement)
  • Reimplemented July 1, 2020 for issuance dates listed until September 11, 2020.

Summary and Context:

  • Grants extensions to those responding to numerous kinds of USCIS requests, including requests for evidence and notices of intent to deny (NOIDs).

31. Retraction of H-2B Visa Expansion

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Rescinds 35,000 additional H-2B seasonal nonagricultural positions that had been announced on March 5, 2020.

32. Allowance of Visa Processing for Doctors

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Continues visa processing for healthcare workers and medical professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

33. Additional Flexibility for H-2A Agricultural Guestworkers

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Allows H-2A agricultural guestworkers to remain in the U.S. for over 3 years and makes it easier for farmers to employ H-2A guestworkers already in the U.S.

34. Waiver of Medical Requirements for H-1B Doctors

Date:

  • Implemented May 11, 2020 until the end of the declared public health emergency. (USCIS Statement)

Summary and Context:

  • Waives 40-hour work week requirement for some H-1B doctors affected by COVID-19
  • Allows telehealth work for H-1B physicians.

35. Removal of Certain Limitations to H-2B Nonagricultural Guestworkers 

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Allows some H-2B workers to stay in the U.S. past the termination of their status.
  • Waives touch-back requirements for H-2B workers.

36. Exemption of Certain Professional Athletes from Travel Restrictions

Date:

  • Implemented May 22, 2020 (DHS Statement)
  • Updated June 1, 2020

Summary and Context:

  • Provides a national interest exemption from COVID-19 related travel bans to certain professional athletes, their spouses, dependents and essential staff.

 

ACTIONS IMPACTING INDIVIDUALS WITH PENDING IMMIGRATION COURT CASES

37. Postponement of Immigration Hearings and Closure of Courts

Date:

  • Implemented March 17, 2020 (DOJ Statement)
  • 2 of 69 immigration courts remain closed as of June 9, 2020 (DOJ List)
  • Some immigration courts begin hearing non-detained cases as of June 11, 2020 (EOIR Policy Memo)

Summary and Context:

  • Postpones hearings for all non-detained immigration hearings and closure of 10 immigration courts.
  • Continues hearings for detained immigrants, including unaccompanied children.
  • Allows many removals and deportations to continue during the pandemic, and increases risk of COVID-19 exposure to immigration judges, lawyers, court workers, and immigrants.

38. Closure of Seattle Immigration Court

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Closes Seattle Immigration Court after employee tests positive for COVID-19.

39. Temporary Varick, New York Immigration Court Closure

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • 1 day closure and reopening of New York City Immigration Court after a positive case of COVID-19.

40. Allowance of Scanned Signatures

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Allows scanned or electronically reproduced signatures for certain immigration court documents.

41. Introduction of Public Health Guidelines for Visitors as EOIR Facilities Reopen

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Requires face masks and social distancing for visitors to EOIR facilities. Bars all those who have been diagnosed as positive for COVID-19, those exhibiting symptoms, and those recently exposed.
  • Provides best practices to discourage in-person hearings and appearances in immigration courts, including the use of video teleconferencing and telephonic appearances.
  • Winds down guidance permitting email filings as some non-detained hearings resume.

 

ACTIONS IMPACTING INDIVIDUALS SUBJECT TO INTERIOR ENFORCEMENT AND REMOVAL

42. Suspension of Removals of Sick Individuals

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Ends deportations of all those with a 100.4-degree fever.
  • Does not require COVID-19 testing of deportees.
  • Detainees with a temperature of 99 degrees or higher must be immediately referred to a medical provider for evaluation before removal.

43. Cancellation of ICE In-Person Check-Ins

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Suspends in-person check-ins for immigrants considered low priority for removal, allows newly released immigrants at the border an additional 30 days to check in.

44. Restrictions to ICE Enforcement Activities

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Suspends arrests of those who are not “public safety risks or individual subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds.” Deputy Secretary of DHS Ken Cuccinelli has clarifiedthat some non-priority arrests will still occur.
  • ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) will focus enforcement on so-called “public-safety risks” and individuals with criminal backgrounds.

45. Limitation on Deportation Flights

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Suspends all removal flights to Italy, China and South Korea 

 

ACTIONS IMPACTING U.S. CITIZENS AND RESIDENTS

46. Repatriation of Americans from Abroad

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Begins repatriation of American citizens and others who were abroad when the spread of COVID-19 began.
  • As of June 4, 2020 the State Department has coordinated the repatriation of 100,254 Americans from 136 countries and territories.

47. Closure of CBP Trusted Traveler Program

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Closes CBP operations of Trusted Traveler Program, which allows the expedited entry of pre-approved travelers.

48. Limitation on U.S. Passport Processing

Date:

Summary and Context:

  • Suspends in-person passport processing services except for in “life-or-death” emergencies.

 

Sources:

  1. American Immigration Lawyers Association, “Resource Center: 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19),” https://www.aila.org/advo-media/issues/all/covid-19
  2. Bier, David, CATO Institute, “Timeline and List of U.S. Immigration Actions on COVID-19,” https://www.cato.org/blog/timeline-list-us-immigration-actions-covid-19
  3. Boundless, “Latest Updates: Coronavirus and Immigration,” https://www.boundless.com/blog/coronavirus-immigration/

 

The National Immigration Forum would like to thank Nicci Mattey, policy intern, for her contributions to this resource.

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