What happens if you or a relative is stranded abroad scrambling to return home after countries closed their borders? Millions of people who had travelled for work, tourism, business or to study are marooned in different countries amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Gladys Mogaka, a Kenyan-American immigration and corporate law attorney licensed to practice law in New York and in Kenya spoke to BDLife on what to do if trapped abroad.
If flights have been cancelled, borders closed, what should a Kenyan who is stranded in the US do?
Such a person should apply for a visa extension. USCIS provides special support for individuals who may be affected by natural or extreme circumstances. Covid-19 being a global pandemic, USCIS will take into consideration how it affected your departure and will definitely allow one to either extend or change their status.
How much will it cost to extend the visa and what is the procedure of extension?
The filing fee for change of status or extension is $370 (Sh37,000). Do you need to involve an immigration lawyer? Yes you do. I will always recommend getting a professional especially when it is at the discretion of the immigration officer to provide a benefit. This is not just a simple form that needs to be filled. You need to provide a legal argument to prove how the special circumstances prevented your departure. This may vary since visa categories vary, and you want to know how the extension or change of status might affect your future applications.
Is there any legal challenges if someone does not seek an extension of the visa?
Overstaying your visa can lead to accruing unlawful presence. If you leave the country, depending on how long one overstays, you will be banned from returning to the US. You are also susceptible to deportation when caught.
Can visitors get sponsors like family members to apply for the new visa if he or she is still in the country?
Yes. Visitors who came in for the sole purpose of visiting and have immediate relatives (father, mother, spouse, child) may change their status even though their initial visit was meant to be temporary.
Can someone who has not changed their status on the expiry of their visa be subjected to fines?
What if the person is in Kenya on a green card that is about to expire?
They should apply for an SB-1 returning resident visa and argue Covid-19 as a reason for not returning to the US on time. They must prove how it was beyond their control with evidence.