How Covid-19 is Affecting Immigration

immigration during covidCOVID-19 has impacted many industries across the country and changed numerous facets about personal life. Social distancing, remote work, and hygienic practices like wearing masks and sanitizing hands have become the new norm in many places. But one often overlooked area that has been hard-hit by the pandemic is immigration.


The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted communities around America regardless of race, class, or citizenship status. That said, some residents are reluctant to seek out medical care because they fear that immigration policies will be enforced while they’re in the hospital. Though the National Guard of various states and the Department of Homeland Security set up field hospitals during moments of crisis like a terrorist attack or natural disaster, and these field hospitals are supposed to be immigration enforcement free zones, there has been no official word on whether or not hospitals and field hospitals will be enforcement free during the current pandemic—leading some individuals to avoid seeking much needed medical attention, and potentially furthering the spread of the virus in their communities.


Some public policies in place may also make certain immigrants reluctant to seek non-emergency medical care through a clinic or doctor, or pursue medical benefits such as Medical Assistance. Under the Public Charge Rule, immigration officials have greater leeway to deny applicants of green cards or visas if they feel that the immigrants in question will leverage public benefits (such as Medical Assistance or SNAP Benefits) in the future. Those who have applied for a visa or green card and are already in the United States can be denied if they will use public benefits for 12 months within a 36-month period. One of the potential effects of these immigration laws in the era of CORONA may be to discourage immigrants from seeking medical attention, lest their application for a green card or visa be denied—which in turn can create a public health risk.  There are no easy answers as each policy or proposed policy changes carry potential unforeseen consequences.


The COVID-19 crisis has also impacted the process of naturalization for immigrants who often wait months or sometimes years for an appointment. With the spread of the pandemic, some U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices have closed. These offices are a go-to point of contact for immigrants to become citizens or permanent residents—a process that will be significantly delayed as these offices reschedule appointments and resort to mail for communicating and appointments. In some cases, immigrants might be caught in a catch-22 situation if important documents such as their passport are within the closed offices, leaving them stranded and bereft of options for returning to their country of origin.


Of course, COVID-19 has also severely impacted the economy, causing the need to freeze visas and implement additional restrictions in the wake of widespread unemployment. These actions were intended to assist current American citizens regain employment and limit competition from an immigrant workforce, but the end result may affect some immigrants seeking legal work. And for those immigrants who work under the table accepting cash payments, quarantines and business closures have dried up some of their sources of income, with limited ability to pursue unemployment or other benefits as could a person with legal immigration status. Even for those immigrants who are legally employed and on the books, in industries such as service and hospitality, these workers may find themselves out of a job and unable to navigate the application process because of a language barrier.


All told, COVID-19 does not bode well for immigrants and those seeking visas. The effects can also affect their immediate and extended families as well. It’s important to stay up to date on the constantly shifting landscape of immigration and COVID-19, working with an immigration attorney in Miami who can advise you on how to pursue the best course of action, given your unique situation.


The United States was built on the hard work of its various immigrant communities, and even today we continue to rely on their talent and industry, which keeps the economy moving through times good and bad. Manos Schenk is dedicated to helping immigrants and employers through the complex bureaucratic web of regulations, offering legal assistance with defense against violations. These violations can result in severe fines and even lifetime bans on immigration—which is why it’s important to work with a skilled immigration attorney in Miami who can guide you through the complexities of this very important area of the law.