These travel restrictions have largely impacted students and exchange visitors (SEVIS). There are very limited options for students to keep their SEVIS status active while outside the US during an academic term. According to the Office of International Studies (OIS), absent an option to maintain SEVIS status, OIS is required by law to end the student’s SEVIS status. This means that once a student is able to resume studies in the US, they must first obtain new immigration documents from OIS issued under a new SEVIS program. Currently, the DHS has not addressed any exceptions for students who are stuck abroad because of travel restrictions. Other consequences may arise, such as the loss of eligibility for OPT after completion of the student program. However, the USCIS has discretion to extend or change status, and in some cases provide student work authorization, for exchange visitors whose travel is impacted by COVID-19.
While the US seeks to isolate itself from global travel to contain domestic growth of coronavirus, recently implemented immigration policies have made the US environment its very own petri dish. Current public charge policy holds immigrants who are found to be a public charge are subject to ineligibility for permanent residency. In fear of being found a public charge, many non-citizens are dropping their publicly funded health insurance, such as Medicaid, and many are refraining from attending medical appointments and dropping health care in light of the new immigration policy. For example, non-citizens who may be experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 may forego testing in fear of being found a public charge, creating dire consequences for public health and likelihood of spreading the virus. However, due to these growing concerns, USCIS has announced that seeking testing, treatment, or preventive services for coronavirus will not affect someone’s immigration status under the rule.
Lastly, though the many restrictions, nationwide shutdowns, and the compelling interest to practice social distancing, the immigration courts remain unmodified. The courts, in general, are centers of human interaction. Judges, juries, witnesses, and the general public come and go by the hour through these institutions, where human contact is unavoidable and spread of potential COVID-19 infections is highly plausible. Take Ohio, for example, where some county courts have taken a pause and have postponed trials in order to protect the public and its employees. However, the immigration courts continue regular operation. This sparks much concern among immigration judges, as immigration courts particularly attract international visitors who may have recently traveled internationally. Accordingly, on March 12, 2020, the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) sent their second pleading letter to the DOJ expressing their health concerns and seek additional protective measures in light of the outbreak.