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We are all very worried about the coronavirus. But if you are an immigrant, a refugee, or an asylum seeker in the USA, you may have extra worries. This page addresses some of the topics that are important to immigrant communities. You will also find the latest updates on ICE, USCIS, and other immigration changes because of COVID-19.
What is worrying you?
Many newcomers come to the USA from bad situations. It is hard to trust the government. Also, there is confusion in our US leadership in this difficult time. So what should we do and who should we trust?
You can trust the government health information
The CDC is a US government agency with dedicated, professional scientists. They put their lives at risk to understand diseases like COVID-19 and keep the public safe. It is very important that we trust their information during times like this.
You can trust your local health authorities and medical services
Every state, county and city government also has a public health agency. The health agencies in your state do not care about your immigration status. They care about your health. You can ask them for help.
In the USA, the law says that no hospital emergency room can turn you away because you are undocumented or because you cannot pay. If you are sick, seek help. But because COVD-19 is very infectious, call 911, your hospital or your local health agency first.
You have healthcare rights in the USA whatever your legal status. You may also have rights to health insurance. Read about your healthcare rights in English, Arabic, Amharic, Burmese, Chinese, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.
- Find a free clinic (health services for people who cannot pay).
- Find a health center (health services that only charge what you can afford). Many health centers offer free COVD-19 testing to everyone.
- California has health coverage called Medi-Cal for low-income, undocumented immigrants who are younger than 25.
Across the USA, people are being targeted because of fears about COVID-19. What can you do?
- You can report discrimination to your local government or to your local ACLU affiliate.
- You can submit an incident report to the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council.
- If you are discriminated against at work, you can file a formal complaint to the US government.
- Find information about stigma from the CDC.
- Find anti-stigma resources from Washington state.
- Learn what to do if someone is threatening you.
- You can also learn about your rights.
USAHello is not able to give legal or immigration advice. But we can connect you to immigration and legal professionals who can help:
ImmigrationLawHelp.org helps low-income immigrants find legal help. You can search for legal help on their website using your zip code. You can also search by detention center if you or your family member is in detention in the USA.
Many government office that handle immigration and visas are closed. Boundless is a trusted resource for citizenship and green card applications. Read its information about how coronavirus is affecting interviews, documents, and applications.
United We Dream
United We Dream helps undocumented Americans. They have information about USCIS office closures and DACA renewal applications on their website.
USCIS says that COVID-19 testing, prevention, or treatment will NOT be used against immigrants in a public charge test. If you get sick, you should not be afraid to get help because of public charge.
If you lose your job because of the emergency, or if your school has closed, you can write a statement explaining this to go with your visa application. Then, if you have to accept government help, it should not count as a public charge.
You can read more about public charge from USAHello.
The most important rules are the same everywhere in the USA:
- Avoid any contact with people you do not live with.
- Stay home whenever possible and keep your children home.
- You can go out to exercise or get necessary food and medicine but you must stay 6 feet away from other people.
- Cover your nose and mouth if you have to be closer than 6 feet to people you do not live with.
- Do not go to work or leave your home if you are sick.
- Use good hygiene. Good hygiene means washing your hands, using tissues to cough or sneeze, not touching your face, and cleaning surfaces.
This guide, created by HIAS, offers information to refugees, asylum seekers, asylees and other immigrants about your rights during this uncertain time.
Updates and changes because of COVID-19
There have been changes and closures in the US immigration system because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are updates for immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers:
- In October 2020, a judge stopped a government order that was made in June. The order had banned most visas for people coming to work in the USA, including most health workers and people coming to work in restaurants and hotels for the tourist season. (It does not apply to farm workers or to people who already have visas.) The October ruling means that that many foreign workers and their US employers can again apply for H-1B, J, and L visas. The situation may change again. We will update this page when there is more information.
- The US administration has issued an executive order to stop new immigration visas (green cards) from April 23, 2020. The order applies to people outside of the USA. Spouses and children under age 21 of US citizens will still be allowed to get visas. People who already have immigrant visas or valid travel documents can still come. SIVs and members of the US Armed Forces can still come.
- In March 2020, USCIS canceled appointments and closed offices except for emergencies. USCIS opened some offices on June 4. Application Support Centers are not opening yet.
- If your asylum interview was canceled, you will get a notice with a new appointment date.
- If your citizenship ceremony was canceled, you will get a notice to set a new ceremony date.
- If you had another interview that was canceled, you should receive a new appointment notice from your field office.
- If you had an Infopass or other appointment, you need to re-schedule the appointment yourself when you field office is open. You will need to use the USCIS contact center.
- USCIS has new rules at all offices to limit the spread of COVID-19. You must wear a mask and follow directions about social distancing.
- Please read the USCIS coronavirus page for more information. about office openings, interviews and appointments.
- USCIS says that healthcare for COVID-19 is not a public charge. And in July 2020, a federal judge in New York ruled that the public charge rule must not be used during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the details.
- USCIS says because of because of COVID-19, there are long delays in processing Employment Authorization Documents (EAD). USCIS announced in March 2020 that it will reuse biometrics it already has to process EAD extensions. In August 2020, USCIS said that a Form I-797 can be used as evidence of employment authorization for some categories until December 2020. The notice must be dated from December 1, 2019 to August 20, 2020. Read the details.
- There are also new rules about EADs (work permits) for asylum seekers starting August 25, 2020. Read the new rules in English and Spanish.
- The US Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) has closed many immigration courts except for detainee hearings. Stay up to date with EOIR changes.
- The National Visa Center (NVC) will only respond to emergency inquiries. If you have a non-urgent inquiry, use the CEAC tool, but you may have difficulty getting a response.
- ICE continues to make arrests, but ICE says it will not make arrests at health centers and hospitals. They have also postponed some in-person check-ins. Read what ICE says about enforcement on the ICE coronavirus information page.
- ICE has published information for people on the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) about the impact of the coronavirus on schools and students.
- Asylum seekers arriving at borders are being turned back. They are being returned to Mexico or to their home countries. This includes unaccompanied minors. Read asylum seeker updates.
- The US State Department said the USA will stop taking refugees.
- On June 18, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said refugee travel will start again after it was stopped for three months because COVID-19. But the USA is still closed to refugees.
This information comes from trusted sources, such as USCIS, the Department of Homeland Security, HIAS, and CLINIC. USAHello does not give legal advice or medical advice, nor are any of our materials intended to be taken as legal or medical advice.