by Michael J Gurfinkel, ESQ

Typhoon Yolanda has dominated the world’s news, with shocking images of the devastation and destruction of this horrible typhoon. Even now, people are still homeless, without adequate food, water, shelter, medical supplies or care. Some are forced to sleep next to the bloated bodies of those killed during the typhoon. Newscasters and world leaders have praised the courage, strength, and resilience of Filipinos during this time of crisis and need.

My heart goes out to the victims and their families, whether they are in the Philippines, US, or around the world. They are all worried and praying.  While I was in San Francisco, I participated in a telethon by TFC and ABS – CBN Foundation International, to raise funds for the typhoon victims. I was honored and deeply touched to participate in that telethon, answering the phones, hearing so many Filipinos calling in their contributions, pledges, and heartwarming messages for their Kababayans back home.

For its part, the USCIS announced that Filipinos affected by Typhoon Yolanda “may be eligible for certain immigration relief measures if requested.” These “relief measures” deal with a Filipino’s ability to establish or maintain lawful immigration status in the US.

Among the relief measures listed by the USCIS are for Filipinos who are IN THE US, but who were truly affected by the Typhoon:

  • “Change or extension of nonimmigrant status for an individual who is currently in the US, even when the request is filed after the authorized period of admission has expired.” In other words, if you missed the deadline for filing a change or extension of status because of Typhoon Yolanda, USCIS may accept the late filing. But I would not wait too long to apply!
  • “Extension of certain grants of parole,” such as humanitarian parole or “parole in place.” “Extension of certain grants of advance parole,” (meaning the ability to travel outside the US while your adjustment of status application is pending), and the “expedited processing of advance parole requests.” In other words, if you have an adjustment of status application pending, and urgently want to go back to the Philippines to see family members affected by Typhoon Yolanda, USCIS may expedite your request for advance parole. (However, before applying for advance parole, make sure you are eligible and it is otherwise “safe” for you to travel outside the US.)
  • Expedited processing of work authorization for off-campus work for students “experiencing severe economic hardship.”
  • Expedited processing of immigrant petitions for immediate relatives of US citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs). In other words, if you are being petitioned by an American spouse, and desperately want to go home to visit your family, USCIS may expedite the processing of your petition and possibly adjustment of status, enabling you to get your green card quickly and travel back home as quickly as possible
  • Expedited processing of work authorizations, where appropriate.
  • Assistance to green card holders stranded in the Philippines, without immigration or travel documents, such as a green card. In other words, a green card holder may have been caught in Typhoon Yolanda, and his or her green card was washed away.

If you truly were affected by Typhoon Yolanda, and are in need of the available immigration relief measures, you should seek the advice of an attorney, who can determine your eligibility (and determine if it is “safe” for you to apply) and assist in the possible expedited processing of those relief measures. Please note that this does
NOT mean that the Embassy will issue visas to your family in the Philippines who were affected by the Typhoon, so they can come to visit or live in the US.  These measures are primarily designed to help you maintain your lawful immigration status in the US.