Just when we thought the year was winding down, we have new extensions and a travel restriction to share! Before its expiration, President Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act with a reauthorization into 2021. The Department of State’s Visa Bulletin for January gave further clarification to legislative actions that require extensions. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement provided an additional 30 days, until January 31, 2021, with I-9 flexibility for remote employers and workplaces. Travel restrictions related to COVID-19 have also been extended between the United States and neighboring countries: Canada and Mexico.

Trump Signs Appropriations Bill Extending Several Immigration Programs; State Dept. Issues Related Guidance

On December 27, 2020, President Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which extends several expiring immigration programs. The E-Verify, Conrad 30, and non-minister religious worker green card programs are reauthorized through September 30, 2021, and the EB-5 Regional Center Program is reauthorized through June 30, 2021. These programs had been set to expire on December 28, 2020. The legislation also provides that certain nonimmigrants who pay taxes and meet other requirements may be eligible for a COVID-19 pandemic recovery rebate.

The Department of State’s Visa Bulletin for January 2021, which was released before Congress voted on this legislation, stated that with respect to the employment fourth preference Certain Religious Workers (SR) category, an extension means that “the December dates would continue to be applied, potentially for the remainder of the month. If there is legislative action extending this category for January, the final action date would immediately become ‘Current’ for January for all countries except El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, which would be subject to a March 1, 2018 final action date, and for Mexico, which would be subject to a December 1, 2018 final action date.”

With respect to the employment fifth preference (I5 and R5) categories, the bulletin states that an extension means that “the December dates would continue to be applied, potentially for the remainder of the month. If there is legislative action extending this category for January, the final action date would immediately become ‘Current’ for January for all countries except China-mainland born, which would be subject to an August 15, 2015 final action date, and for Vietnam, which would be subject to a September 15, 2017 final action date.”

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I-9 Flexibility Extended to January 31

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced an additional 30-day extension to January 31, 2021, of flexibility in complying with requirements related to Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The flexibility applies only to employers and workplaces that are operating remotely. If there are employees physically present at a work location, no exceptions are being implemented now for in-person verification of identity and employment eligibility documentation for the I-9 process.

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CBP Issues Temporary Travel Restrictions at Borders with Canada, Mexico

On December 22, 2020, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued two notices extending temporary travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic and applicable to land ports of entry and ferry service between the United States and Canada, and between the United States and Mexico.

From December 22, 2020, through January 21, 2021, travel from Canada and Mexico into the United States via land ports of entry and ferry service is limited to “essential travel,” as defined in the notices. Essential travel includes, but is not limited to, returning United States citizens and lawful permanent residents; individuals traveling for medical purposes, to attend educational institutions, to work in the United States, for emergency response and public health purposes, to engage in lawful cross-border trade, and others. Those subject to the restrictions include those traveling for tourism, including sightseeing, recreation, gambling, or attending cultural events.

The notices do not apply to air, freight rail, or sea travel but do apply to passenger rail, passenger ferry travel, and pleasure boat travel.

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