The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a branch of the US Department of Homeland Security, announced on August 15 that it is closely monitoring the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and has offered relief measures to nationals of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea who are currently in the United States.
The USCIS considers the Ebola outbreak and other natural catastrophes as ‘special situations’ that occur beyond a person’s control and can affect their nonimmigrant status. “These events can affect your USCIS application, petition or immigration status. We cannot anticipate these events, but will do our best to help you get the benefits for which you qualify,” a statement on the USCIS website says. The relief measures apply to anyone from the aforementioned countries, using a study (F-1) visa or other ‘nonimmigrant’ status in the United States.
Applicants could be granted a change or extension of status and permitted to find a job (off-campus in the case of students).
The Ebola epidemic in Liberia has left over 600 persons dead and hundreds of others infected or suspected infected. Many Liberians who chose to leave the country have sought safety primarily in the US as well as neighboring Ghana.
The US Immigration relief measures that may be available if requested include:
• Change or extension of nonimmigrant status for an individual currently in the United States, even if the request is filed after the authorized period of admission has expired;
• Extension of certain grants of parole made by USCIS;
• Expedited adjudication and approval, where possible, of requests for off-campus employment authorization for F-1 students experiencing severe economic hardship;
• Expedited processing of immigrant petitions for immediate relatives (currently in the United States) of U.S. citizens;
• Expedited adjudication of employment authorization applications, where appropriate; and
• Consideration for waiver of fees associated with USCIS benefit applications.
More information on USCIS and its programs, can be found on their website at www.uscis.gov.