The most-powerful earthquake in Japan’s recorded history struck off the country’s northeast coast on March 11, 2011, leaving hundreds of people dead, injured or missing. In response, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) has announced that it is offering relief to Japanese citizens and other foreign nationals from the Pacific who may now be stranded in the United States due to the recent earthquakes and tsunamis in the region.
The USCIS advisory states that, if these individuals have exceeded or are about to exceed their authorized stay in the U.S. (the advisory later refers to visitor status only), they may be permitted up to an additional 30 days to depart. Visitors currently traveling under the Visa Waiver Program (“VWP”) may do one of the following:
- If at an airport, they should contact the United States Customs & Border Protection (“USCBP”) office at the airport; and
- In all others situations, they should visit their local USCIS office.
Visitors currently traveling under a nonimmigrant visa should do the following:
- They should visit their local USCIS office; and
- They should bring their passport, evidence that they are stranded (such as an itinerary for the cancelled flight), and their I-94 departure record.
The USCIS notice also incorporates by reference its regular notice regarding additional immigration relief in special situations. This notice is reproduced below:
Sometimes natural catastrophes and other extreme situations can occur that are beyond your control. These events can affect your USCIS application, petition or immigration status. We cannot anticipate these events, but will do our best to help you get the benefits for which you qualify. When requested, the following options may be available to people affected by natural catastrophes and other extreme situations:
Extensions & Changes of Status
We recognize that when affected by a disaster you may, through no fault of your own, fall out of status. When applying for an extension or change in status due to a disaster, we may consider your request if you show how it is directly connected to the disaster.
If you are unable to pay the fee for a USCIS service or benefit, you may request that your fee be waived for certain forms by filing a Request for Fee Waiver, Form I-912 (or a written request).
As an academic student, you may need to work off-campus if a disaster has affected your ability to support yourself. The disaster may occur in the United States and prevent you from working on-campus or the disaster may occur overseas and affect your economic support. If you can demonstrate that you are from an affected country or region and you have been recommended for such employment by the Designated School Official (DSO), you may be eligible to receive employment authorization when filing the I-765, Application for Employment Authorization.
If you have lost your USCIS-issued documents through no fault of your own, you may show your need for replacing the documents.
USCIS and USCBP previously announced similar relief for travelers who were stranded in the United States due to the Icelandic volcano eruption last year. However, that USCIS/USCBP announcement simply informed non-VWP applicants about the normal procedure for extending their stay within the United States, which usually involves filing an extension application at one of the USCIS service centers. This time, USCIS specifically states that nonimmigrants may visit their local USCIS office to seek relief.