I work in the area of employment-based immigration, so as global mobility ground to a halt, consulates closed, and workers went remote, our industry had to adapt immediately and start advising nervous clients with very little predictability about the future. The inefficiencies of the United States’ outdated immigration procedures began to show, as practically every immigration benefit requires a paper application and original signature, and certain notices are required to be posted at physical worksites.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of Labor slowly made small concessions in allowing scanned signatures and acknowledging remote work arrangements, but unlike other countries, the U.S. is not providing automatic status extensions or amnesty for foreign nationals who cannot meet filing deadlines or depart the U.S. due to the pandemic. This means immigration attorneys like myself are essential workers who must go to offices and couriers to file applications on time. I am going into Boston one to two times a week to print and mail my clients’ documents. It’s a quick commute given that there is no more traffic and all the parking you could ask for, but the city is eerily empty — a ghost town.
We now also have the president’s latest Executive Order, which prohibits new permanent residents from entering the U.S. and implies that further restrictions may be placed on temporary worker visas. This pivot to scapegoating immigrants for the pandemic reveals a lack of understanding that it is precisely these individuals who are supporting our economy and our well-being. There are thousands of foreign-born doctors and nurses working in U.S. hospitals to fight this virus, thousands of foreign-born agricultural workers keeping groceries on the store shelves, and thousands of foreign-born software engineers keeping our internet turned on, our companies operating remotely, and our online orders arriving at our doors.
So while I am very grateful to have plenty of work to do in a time when so many have lost their jobs, I am busy because our immigration system is not adapting to the realities of this crisis.