As 2021 comes to an end, the White House and the Department of State have announced:

  1. South African Travel Restrictions Lifted.

The 14-day travel restrictions on southern African countries will be lifted as of midnight on December 31, 2021. Adopted on November 29th, the restrictions based on spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant have been in effect for travelers from Botswana, Eswantini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. The requirements that all travelers to the United States, unless otherwise excepted, must be fully vaccinated and present a negative COVID-19 test taken within one day of travel remain in effect.

  1. New Waivers of In-Person Visa Interviews.

To help ease the nonimmigrant visa backlogs, consular officials will have the discretion to waive in-person interview requirements for some with H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q USCIS-approved petitions until the end of 2022. The eligibility requirements for those who were previously issued a visa in the same category are:

  • No visa refusals, unless the refusal was overcome or waived
  • No apparent or potential ineligibility
  • Must be applying in their country of nationality or residence

For those applying for the first time for the visa category:

  • Must be a citizen or national of a Visa Waiver country
  • No apparent or potential ineligibility
  • Previously travelled to the U.S. on ESTA

The discretionary interview waiver has also been extended until the end of 2022 for certain students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists (e.g., F, M, and academic J applicants), for those applying for H-2 (temporary agricultural or non-agricultural) visas, and for those who are renewing any visas within 48 months of expiration.

Because consular resources and COVID-19 restrictions vary, applicants should check the relevant embassy or consular website to confirm available services.

  1. Expired U.S. Passports Can Still Be Used.

Citizens can continue to use expired U.S. passports to return to the U.S. until March 31, 2022. To be eligible, the individual must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Be currently abroad
  • Be flying directly to the United States, a U.S. territory, or have only a short-term transit, or connecting flight, through a foreign country on their return to the United States
  • Have been issued and possess an expired, undamaged passport that was originally valid for 10 years or, if 15 years of age or under when the passport was issued, the original validity must be for five years

Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to advise you on these new procedures. We wish you a happy new year!

The status of the OSHA ETS is evolving daily. See below for the most recent updates.

SCOTUS Questioning Suggests OSHA ETS is Squeezing an Elephant into a Mousehole

Several cities, states, counties and Puerto Rico have made updates to their COVID-19-related laws, regulations and orders. See below for the latest news.

California

California Mandates COVID-19 Booster for Workers in Health Care, Adult Care Facilities and Direct Care by February 1, 2022

Employers in the U.S. are facing regulatory upheaval on multiple fronts. The federal government has taken up a new interest in potentially limiting the applicability of restrictive covenants, such as non-compete agreements. Meanwhile, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) (currently stayed by the Fifth Circuit) requiring employers with 100 or more employees to ensure all employees are either vaccinated or taking weekly COVID-19 tests.

These seemingly disparate legal trends are colliding in recent federal and state bills.

On November 3, 2021, nine Republican House Members sponsored a Federal bill that would void existing non-compete agreements for any employee who is fired for “not receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.” The bill would also require the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to issue regulations prohibiting employers from enforcing non-compete agreements with such employees.

Similar bills have been introduced around the country. The trend began in Texas and Tennessee, then New Hampshire followed suit on November 16, 2021.

The Tennessee bill has even more “bite” than its federal and state companions. If a private employer requires the signing employee to receive a vaccine as a condition of employment, any non-compete, non-solicitation, non-disparagement, or confidentiality provision entered after the effective date of the proposed law would be void and unenforceable. Even if the employee gets the vaccine voluntarily and later resigns to work for a competitor, these provisions would be void simply by virtue of the employer having required the vaccine in the first place.  (Which, of course, may be mandatory under federal law.)

Whether any of these bills actually gains traction remains to be seen. We will continue to monitor this legislation and post updates once we know more. In the meantime, Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to assist employers navigate regulatory changes in these, and other, areas of law.

ICE has announced it will extend I-9 flexibility until April 30, 2022, due to continuing precautions related to COVID-19.

The guidance remains the same:

  • Employees who work exclusively in a remote setting due to COVID-19 continue to be temporarily exempt from the in-person requirements associated with Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification, until they start working at a worksite on a regular, consistent, or predictable basis (or until flexibility is terminated).
  • As before, ICE reiterates that, if employees are physically present at a work location, flexibility does not apply.

Advocates have been encouraging the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to continue this flexibility indefinitely because, although many employees are returning to worksites, remote work will continue to play an important role in the 21st century workplace.

The ability to conduct Form I-9 verifications remotely allows companies to centralize their I-9 processes so that experienced staff can conduct the reviews, to eliminate the need to hire agents who may not be as experienced to conduct remote verifications, and to make it easier to hire key employees who may work remotely. Moreover, it would eliminate barriers to hiring individuals for whom remote work is a necessity, such as those who live in rural areas or have physical disabilities that make it impossible to attend an in-person I-9 verification.

Employers should continue to prepare for the possible end of flexibility by:

  • Keeping track of employees who have been verified virtually, when they will be returning to work, and the deadline for in-person verification; and
  • Identifying and training staff to conduct the necessary in-person reviews.

Employers should also review the newly adopted process for verifying employment authorization for individuals with long-pending H-4, E, and L-2 EADs.

Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to assist you in instituting compliant Form I-9 processes and policies.

Cal/OSHA’s ETS is Amended and Extended to April 2022

On December 16, 2021, Cal/OSHA’s Standards Board voted to readopt the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) with several revisions. This vote comes on the heels of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issuing a state-wide face-covering requirement for indoor public settings and in the wake of uncertainty about the future of the federal COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (federal ETS). Read more.

California Employers Must Comply with the Cal/OSHA ETS While Uncertainty Continues with Federal ETS

On December 16, 2021, Cal/OSHA’s Standards Board voted to readopt the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (Cal/OSHA ETS) with several revisions. And just a day later the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit lifted the stay on the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard (federal ETS). The timing of these announcements has created some confusion, with many employers wondering if the two announcements are related. They are not. Read more.