New USCIS Guidelines On Assistance To Noncitizens In Emergencies

On October 26, 2023, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) released guidance on assistance it may provide during certain emergencies and unforeseen circumstances, such as natural catastrophes (hurricanes, wildfires, severe weather, etc.), national emergencies (public health emergencies), or severe illness (including COVID).

If you are a noncitizen faced with these unforeseen circumstances, you may call the USCIS Contact Center at 800-375-5283 to request assistance. The USCIS will evaluate each request on a case-by-case basis.

  1. Noncitizens who have already filed immigration applications or benefit requests and have a receipt number, may request expedited processing by calling the USCIS Contact Center.
  2. Noncitizens contacting USCIS for assistance should be prepared to explain how the unforeseen circumstance (domestic or international) created a need for the requested relief.
    • Example: Requests for lost or stolen documents should include an explanation of what happened and a copy of a police report, insurance claim, or other report, if available, to support the request.
  3. Domestically, USCIS may apply flexibility as appropriate to individuals affected by natural catastrophes, who live in a location that FEMA has identified as a disaster area for purposes of public assistance.
    • Note: When requesting assistance on this basis, noncitizens should include evidence that they reside in an affected county, in addition to how the catastrophe created a need for the requested relief.
  4. USCIS may also apply flexibility to individuals affected by situations not involving a FEMA designation.
  5. Noncitizens should update their address with USCIS to ensure they receive all correspondence and benefits in a timely manner and avoid delays.
    • To update an address with USCIS, visit the USCIS “How to Change Your Address” page.
    • Changing your address with the U.S. Postal Service will not change an address with USCIS.
  6. Fee Waiver: Noncitizens unable to pay the fee for a USCIS service or benefit, may request a fee waiver for certain forms by filing a Request for Fee Waiver (Form I-912).
  7. Severe Economic Hardship to F-1 Students Caused by Unforeseen Circumstances:
    • F-1 Students experience severe economic hardship because of unforeseen circumstances beyond their control, may request employment authorization to work “off-campus”.
    • Examples of unforeseen circumstances include (but are not limited to):
      • Loss of financial aid or on-campus employment (through no fault of your own);
      • Substantial fluctuations in currency value or exchange rate;
      • Unreasonable increase in tuition or living costs;
      • Unexpected changes in the financial condition of your source of support;
      • Medical bills; and Other substantial and unexpected expenses.
  8. Special Student Relief (“SSR”): SSR is the suspension of certain regulatory requirements by the U.S. government for F‑1 students from parts of the world that are experiencing difficult circumstances, such as natural catastrophes, war or military conflicts, and national or international financial crises.
    • DHS designates SSR by publication of a Federal Register notice, which provides the start and end dates of the suspension of those requirements.
    • This benefit enables students from such countries to obtain authorization to work “off-campus”.
  9. Flexibility for Visa Waiver Program (“VWP”) entrants: If an emergency prevents the timely departure of a VWP entrant, USCIS may grant up to 30 days to allow for satisfactory departure.
    • VWP entrants already granted satisfactory departure and unable to depart within the 30-day period due to emergency related issues, may request additional 30-day periods of satisfactory departure.
    • To request satisfactory departure from USCIS, VWP entrants should call the USCIS Contact Center.

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