Last week, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the availability of limited immigration relief measures to nationals of three West African countries affected by the current Ebola virus outbreak.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the outbreak began in Guinea in December 2013.  The virus has since spread to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone and become the largest Ebola outbreak ever recorded.  Experts report 2,473 suspected or confirmed cases, including 1,350 deaths, prompting WHO to declare a public health emergency of international concern.

In response, USCIS has deemed the Ebola outbreak a “special situation” that merits certain relief measures to nationals of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone who are currently in the United States.  Importantly, these forms of relief will not be automatically granted; nationals of the affected countries must request special consideration from USCIS.  Individuals with a nonimmigrant visa or parole grant may apply to extend their status if they can demonstrate that the extension is directly connected to the current public health crisis.  Additionally, those in nonimmigrant status may request a change in status, and lack of timeliness for a change or extension request may be excused.  USCIS also announced that it will offer expedited processing of certain immigration benefits, including immediate relative petitions, employment authorization applications, and off-campus employment authorization for F-1 students.  Recognizing the financial burden the Ebola outbreak may place on individuals from the affected countries, USCIS has agreed to consider the virus’ impact in evaluating fee waiver requests for immigration benefits.

As noted above, USCIS has limited the outlined forms of immigration relief to nationals of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone who are currently in the United States and specifically request such relief.  Despite WHO’s concern over a growing number of cases in Nigeria, the measures are not currently available to that country’s nationals.  Significantly, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has not designated any of the affected countries for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) at this time. 

Wilson Law Group will continue to monitor USCIS’s considerations for foreign nationals of countries affected by the Ebola virus outbreak.  If you believe you or a family member may qualify for relief, please contact our office for a free consultation at 612-436-7100 or via ourwebsite.