By Donald W. Parker, Immigration Attorney
The USCIS has published guidelines for requesting an expedite of a pending application to renew an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) specifically for qualifying healthcare workers. This is now an additional basis for requesting expedited processing of immigration benefit applications — a description of the various expedite options, including information on the new process for expediting the EADs of healthcare workers, can be found here.
The new guidelines, which rely on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) guidance for COVID-19 response, apply to all EAD renewal applications but not to initial applications for an EAD. This includes EADs tied to an I-485 Adjustment of Status application as well as an EAD based on L-2 and H-4 derivative status. The expedite request can only be made once the EAD is within 30 days of expiration or after it has expired. Expedite requests must be done through the USCIS Customer Service Center either by phone (800-375-5283) or using the on-line “Ask Emma” feature, which can be accessed on the USCIS web site. When the expedite request is made, the applicant must establish that they are a qualifying health care worker, presumably with a letter from their employer, that would be submitted as part of the application process visa email or fax. The guidelines provide that a successful expedite request will result in the EAD application being “prioritized” without indicating how quickly the USCIS will act. It is, of course, ultimately in the discretion of the Customer Service Officer as to whether the expedite request is granted and then once granted, the USCIS notes that there is no guarantee that the USCIS will approve the case.
The central question in this new EAD expedite process is how “qualifying healthcare worker” is defined. The CISA guidelines provide a number of different definitions and examples of workers that fall within this sector, including:
- Workers, including laboratory personnel, who perform critical clinical, biomedical and other research, development and testing needed for COVID-019 and other diseases.
- Workers required for effective clinical, command, infrastructure, support service, administrative, security and intelligence operations across the patient care and full healthcare and public health spectrum. Examples of this include accounting, administrative, engineering, information technology and operational technology.
- Workers that manage health plans, billing and health information.
- Vendors and suppliers of imaging, pharmaceutical, oxygen and other durable medical goods.
- Workers at manufacturers, including biotechnology companies, materials and parts suppliers, logistics and warehouse operators and distributors of medical products and equipment.
Time will tell how expansively USCIS Customer Service interprets these seemingly very broad definitions in the application of the new EAD expedite guidelines. In any event, this new ground for expediting EADs is a welcome development given the enormous delays that are being experiencing in the processing of EADs.