Typhoon Soudelor, which passed directly over Saipan on August 2, 2015, caused significant damage to the island, which is the largest island of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (the “CNMI”). The CNMI is one of two commonwealth territories of the United States, the other is Puerto Rico. When Soudelor hit Saipan, its strength was approximately that of a Category 2 hurricane with a wind speed ranging from 96-110 miles per hour. This caused extensive damage to the electrical grid, cars, roads and many structures on the island.
Due to the extensive damage suffered, USCIS issued a reminder that those individuals affected by Typhoon Soudelor may be eligible for temporary immigration relief measures. Because of the lack of ability to return to the CNMI, eligible individuals may request or apply for relief measures, such as the following:
- Change or extension of stay for an individual in nonimmigrant status, even if the individual has overstayed his or her lawful status;
- Extension of parole for individuals in the United States temporarily;
- Expedited adjudication of employment authorization applications;
- Assistance to lawful permanent residents who are stuck overseas without travel documents to enable them to travel back to the United States;
- Extensions for filing delays or interview resulting from the typhoon, such as inability to appear at an interview or inability to provided requested documents;
- Extensions of the deadlines to respond to requests for evidence and notices of intent to deny by 30 days if the deadline for such request for evidence or notice of intent to deny fell between August 2, 2015 and September 2, 2015; and
- USCIS will not issue denials based on abandonment of an application or petition in the CNMI.
It is important to note that these measures are temporary, and will not continue indefinitely. It is expected USCIS will issue further guidance as necessary if conditions worsen in the CNMI. Additional benefits, such as a fee waiver, document replacement or expedited processing may also be granted. Generally, the ability to derive the benefit of these temporary measures will require a showing by each individual that Typhoon Soudelor has affected his or her ability to comply with USCIS’ normal regulations and procedures.
Additionally, these temporary relief measures are different from temporary protected status (“TPS”), which generally prevents removal from the United States and allows travel and employment permission until such time as the country designated for TPS is no longer designated.