USCIS on Assistance for Those Affected by Hurricane Isaac10 Sep 2012
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently posted information helpful to foreign nationals facing immigration-related difficulties as a result of Hurricane Isaac. Natural disasters inevitably create disruptions that may make it impossible to meet all immigration requirements and deadlines. The USCIS generally makes reasonable adjustments and accommodations in such situations. The specifics of the efforts to help those impacted by Hurricane Isaac are summarized in this MurthyDotCom NewsBrief for the benefit of our readers.
Areas of Impact
Hurricane Isaac hit the U.S. gulf states on August 29, 2012. Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama each declared a state of emergency. Evacuations were ordered in areas of each of these states. Although, also impacted by the storm, there was no state of emergency declared for Florida. The hurricane resulted in extensive flooding, power outages, extended business disruption, and billions of dollars in property damage. The exact toll in loss of life and other costs from Hurricane Isaac are unknown as of this writing.
Late Filing Allowed for Extension or Change in Status
The USCIS has expressed an understanding that natural disasters often affect one’s ability to maintain lawful immigration status. Some temporary help therefore is being offered to those who faced problems due to the hurricane.
The USCIS is willing to accept a late-filed application for extension or change of status for an individual within the United States. While not specifically stated, it is necessary to show that the delay or failure to comply is a result of the hurricane when asking for forgiveness for a late filing in this situation. Accordingly, applicants should be prepared to show that they were in status prior to the hurricane, and that any delay in filing or failure to comply with the terms of status was the result of the hurricane and its impact on the individual’s ability to file the required documents timely.
Possible Benefits like APs, EADs, and Extensions
The USCIS is offering expedited processing of advance parole applications (APs) and extensions or re-parole of those who have been parolees into the United States. The latter appears to be aimed at those individuals who may not have been able to depart or take other appropriate action, due to the hurricane.
Also listed as a humanitarian step in light of the hurricane, the USCIS will expedite the adjudication of employment authorization documents (EADs) for eligible individuals. Expedited treatment is also an option for immigrant petitions filed for immediate relatives, as well as those filed for preference relatives if the preference priority date is current.
Students May Apply for EAD Due to Severe Economic Hardship
Students in F-1 status may face severe economic hardship as a result of damage to property or housing, as well as related costs for evacuation. They may require employment authorization to overcome their current situation. Others may be impacted by damage outside of the United States caused by the Hurricane, if the student’s source of funds from a sponsor was affected.
Others Situations Prompting Request Relief
- Visa Waiver Program visitors may ask for help through a local USCIS office.
- Individuals stranded at U.S. airports may contact the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for assistance.
- The USCIS as well as the U.S. Department of State will coordinate efforts to facilitate the return of permanent residents who are stranded abroad due to lack of immigration and travel documents.
More Help will be Needed
Natural disasters create disruptions that tie in to aspects of immigration status not addressed by the initial USCIS announcement regarding Hurricane Isaac. Many immigration statuses are connected to employment. Reasonable accommodations will be needed for those who suffer interruptions in employment and/or job loss.
Document Loss / Destruction Due to Hurricane Isaac
There will be further problems facing immigrants due to document loss and destruction. During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, there were many such problems. It is likely there are again immigration lawyers in the affected areas who are unable to access their offices, communicate with their clients, or otherwise operate their practices as usual. This results in further missed deadlines and related problems. It is our hope at the Murthy Law Firm that U.S. government departments and agencies involved in the immigration process will all make any necessary adjustments, exercising discretion whenever possible, but it is the responsibility of the individual to make all efforts to maintain status.
Foreign nationals facing immigration-related problems due to Hurricane Isaac should take steps to address their situations as promptly as possible. They should try to preserve their documents, if they can do so. The USCIS is offering help and is likely to continue to do so in the aftermath of the hurricane. Updates regarding any significant programs or options related to the damage and disruption created in the unfortunate aftermath of Hurricane Isaac will be provided, as it is made available.
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