The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had a negative impact on everyone throughout the world. No one has been able to avoid disruption in their lives. A person’s personal circumstance could determine how big of a disruption the pandemic had on it. For instance, in the United States, the pandemic presented immigrants with complications that others might not have had to handle.
Certain immigrants always live with the fear that a minor or major change in their life could result in them having to return to their nation of origin. Given the significant changes COVID-19 has had on the world, immigrants face that reality more often. There are those who rely on their jobs to allow them to stay in this country, while there are others with medical conditions who fear for their safety if they are sent to a detention center.
Those who are concerned about their immigration status or the possibility of having to return home should reach out to an immigration lawyer who will talk with them about their options. A lawyer will also represent them if they need to defend their desire to remain in the United States.
What Impact Does Losing a Job Have on an Immigrant?
One group of immigrants that is facing problems because of the pandemic are those that are in the United States under an H-1B visa. These visas allow immigrants to work in a specialized field for three years, which is the extent of the visa. They can petition to have it extended for up to an additional three years. The employee must possess a bachelor’s degree, and the fields involve pertain to IT, finance, engineering, architecture, and others.
To prevent an overrun on the system, there is a cap on the number of these visas issued annually. Currently, the cap stands at 65,000 visas per fiscal year. There is a limit for an additional 20,000 visas for those workers who possess a master’s degree. The goal of the system is to reward those that come to the United States looking for work in a specialized field or for those that come here for an education and then receive a job following the end of their schooling.
Although the system is meant to incentivize those looking for work, the pandemic has caused these hard-working individuals to worry that they may have to return to their home country sooner than they planned. The pandemic caused many businesses to cut costs, and a prominent area where costs were reduced was in staff. Many cut employees included long-tenured ones and high-paid ones.
That is a difficult prospect to deal with on its own, but for those with an H-1B visa, the stress can be even worse. Without a job to justify their visa, many immigrants face the real fear of having to leave the United States unless they are able to obtain a position in a similar field within 60 days.
What Problems Exist for Immigrants with Medical Conditions?
One of the worries about the COVID-19 virus is the impact it has had on those with certain medical conditions. The virus has proven to be more troublesome to those who have already suffered from respiratory or cardiovascular conditions.
Despite radical changes to the system, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is still arresting immigrants who are in the country illegally if they pose a risk to national security, border security, or public safety. Once arrested, those individuals are placed in detention centers. The added fear for them is these centers do not have space or the capacity to provide for social distancing or other precautions believed to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Others who find themselves in violation of the law for drug charges or other criminal behavior are at risk of being sent back to their home country. Prior to that taking place, there could be a hearing held. However, the immigration system is notoriously backed up, meaning many of those waiting on their hearing could be spending long days and nights in detention centers where the risk of contracting COVID-19 is higher.
There have been multiple lawsuits pertaining to the issues of crowding inmates together. The results of these suits have been mixed, with some winning their cases and other cases getting dismissed.
How Many Immigrants Have Contracted COVID-19?
It is difficult to determine the exact number of immigrants who are in the United States illegally who contracted COVID-19. Since many will not seek medical attention, and there are those that will not or cannot provide identification, determining the correct number is difficult.
However, it is easy to determine that the numbers within immigration facilities have been massive. The primary reason for a significantly higher number of cases in these facilities is because of the increased risk the individuals housed there have faced since the pandemic began more than a year ago.
According to Scientific American, as of last February, about 9,570 individuals in those detention centers tested positive for COVID-19. The percentage of those who did test positive represented about 10 percent of the overall population, which is 17 percent higher than the overall U.S. population. In terms of fatalities, at least one detainee has died every month since ICE began testing for the virus.
Recognizing the inherent problem with the proximity the detainees were experiencing, ICE made a few changes in policy to help curb the number of cases at the centers. The enforcement agency first modified its policies to arrest only those individuals who were posing an immediate risk to the community. It then released almost 4,000 immigrants who had health concerns that would make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.
What Impact Has COVID-19 Had on Those Waiting to Become Citizens?
For those foreign nationals who went through the proper channels and are awaiting citizenship ceremonies, the COVID-19 pandemic caused them strife as well. Owing to the pandemic, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) was forced to shut down all its offices for three months. It began to slowly reopen them, but this meant a larger backlog of those seeking to submit paperwork and other business with the agency. In addition, all interviews for immigration benefits and other concerns were postponed until after the pandemic.
The agency also temporarily shut down swearing-in ceremonies for new citizens. It eventually began to host them with social distancing and drive-thru options. The delay impacted tens of thousands of individuals looking to become citizens.
As for those trying to get into the country, the United States and Canada struck a deal to limit all non-essential travel across their respective borders. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also authorized the Border Patrol to limit the entrance of anyone into the country who might pose a health risk because of the pandemic.
Finally, all Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) hearings were suspended for those who were seeking asylum. That meant more than 20,000 people would have to remain in Mexico, or return to their country of origin, until after the pandemic before the United States was able to hold a hearing.
Philadelphia immigration lawyer at MC Law Group, LLC Represent Immigrants Looking to Make a Better Start in the United States
The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for many in this country, but none so more than our immigrants. With constantly changing policies at the federal level, it can be difficult to determine your rights and how to protect yourself and your family. The Philadelphia immigration lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC will help you with your immigration status and guide you through this evolving landscape. Call us at 215-496-0690 or contact us online today to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout the tri-state area, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and nationwide.