Jacqueline Cummings, the immediate past president of the Jamaican Bar Association has welcomed the announcement by the United States (US) Government that it has given Caribbean and other non-immigrants the opportunity to extend their stay in the US amid the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, provided that they file their applications in a timely manner.

But Cummings yesterday warned that there could still be problems for some Jamaican non-immigrants in the US.

“It is a good thing, but we have to look at several scenarios. The hotel and farmworkers who are seasonally employed in the US, some of them may lose their employee status and are unable to leave the US. Then there are those on legitimate vacations/business and those who go and exploit the system and stay for five and a half months,” Cummings told the Jamaica Observer.

“The first two categories should apply for an extension to remain in the US and more than likely they will get that extension without much issue, but those within the third category may have a problem, as they would have to explain how come they are on a five-month vacation, and how are they supporting, or how will they support themselves financially for another 30 days.

“It may raise a suspicion that they went to the US and were working, and then many persons may be reluctant to make their identity and locations known to US authorities for fear of ICE [US Immigration and Customs Enforcement] taking them into custody,” added Cummings.

The attorney-at-law noted that the US only requires non-immigrants to leave its shores at the end of the period they were granted to stay.

“You can go to a third country. They would not care if you do not have the money to go somewhere else. They may only want you to leave their shores in keeping with the time you were given to stay in the US,” said Cummings.

In the release yesterday the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said that “The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recognizes that there are immigration-related challenges as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We continue to carefully analyze these issues and to leverage our resources to effectively address these challenges within our existing authorities.

“DHS also continues to take action to protect the American people and our communities, and is considering a number of policies and procedures to improve the employment opportunities of US workers during this pandemic.

“Generally, non-immigrants must depart the United States before their authorised period of admission expires. However, we recognise that non-immigrants may unexpectedly remain in the United States beyond their authorised period of stay due to COVID-19,” USCIS said.

The agency noted that non-immigrants can mitigate the immigration consequences of COVID-19 by “timely filing an application for extension of stay (EOS) or change in status (COS)”.

USCIS said it continues to accept and process applications and petitions, and that non-immigrants generally do not accrue unlawful presence “while the timely filed, non-frivolous EOS/COS application is pending”.

It further added that employment authorisation with the same employer, subject to the same terms and conditions of the prior approval, is automatically extended for up to 240 days after the I-94 visa expiration when an extension of stay request is filed on time.

USCIS reminded petitioners and applicants that it can consider delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic when deciding whether to excuse delays in filing documents based on extraordinary circumstances.

But the agency warned that the length of delay must be “commensurate with the circumstances,” adding that the petitioner or applicant must submit “credible evidence to support their request, which USCIS will evaluate on a case-by-case basis”.