Let us simplify the complexities of immigration law.

photo of Fok Immigration Law Staff and Attorneys

How the U.S. Government Response to the Coronavirus Could Affect Immigration and Visa Holders

On Behalf of | Feb 14, 2020 | Uncategorized

Measures to Combat the Coronavirus will Also Affect Lawful Permanent Residents

Corona Virus affects immigration & visas. Fok Immigration Law in San Jose, CA.

Sweeping New Travel Restrictions

In response to a widening global health crisis over the coronavirus, the U.S. has imposed travel bans, quarantines and limited U.S. consular access within China. These changes will have a significant effect on citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR), U.S. visa holders, and potential new immigrants to the United States.

Global Effect of the Coronavirus

The coronavirus is a severe and potentially life-threatening respiratory illness that is accompanied by symptoms that include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

First identified in the city of Wuhan, in China’s Hubei Province, the virus is now having far-reaching effects on immigration, healthcare, travel and global economies. Both the World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have declared the virus a public health emergency.

Worldwide, the coronavirus has caused over 1000 deaths and infected over 43,000 people. The virus is showing no sign of slowing down as the number of countries and infections continues to grow.

New Travel Ban Affects Foreign Nations and Visa Holders Due to Coronavirus

In a sweeping measure designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus within the U.S., the Trump Administration has announced that it will ban entry to any foreign nationals who have been in China, excluding Hong Kong and Macau, in the last 14 days. In other words, it is a 14 day ban since the last time you were in China. You could conceivably travel to China and then to Canada for 14 days and still be allowed in as you have not been in China for the most recent 14 day period.

Consider the travel ban permanent which began on February 2nd. Although, the Secretary of Health and Human Services it will be reassessing this once every 15 days.

Work Visa and Student Visa Holders Most Affected by Coronavirus

As several other countries are instituting similar bans, employees who travel for work may find themselves navigating numerous evolving legal and travel restrictions. This is causing issues for employers who rely on foreign nationals or for whom doing business abroad is a necessity. It’s also proving to be a hardship for individuals with families in China.

The travel ban will primarily affect those holding H-1B, L1 and H4 worker visas and those holding an F1 student visa. Those on student or professional work visas should consider avoiding travel to China until the situation is resolved or the ban is lifted as they may find themselves unable to return.

There are a few exceptions to the current travel ban, most notably:

  • Holders of diplomatic visas, including UN personnel
  • Lawful Permanent Residents (Green Card holders)
  • Spouses, children (under age 21) and siblings (under age 21) of citizens and LPR’s
  • Crew members of an air or sea crew

Quarantines and Returning Citizens

It is becoming increasingly difficult for U.S. citizens and LPR’s to leave China, particularly in certain regions such as Hubei Province. China has currently locked down travel in several areas.

Some U.S. citizens and LPR’s may be forced to stay abroad for much longer than they had intended. This could prove to be a problem for them at the U.S. border as absences of six months or longer may lead to extensive questioning by Homeland Security or lead officials to assume the individual has abandoned their LRP status.

If LPR’s do manage to leave China, they face additional restrictions upon arrival in the U.S.

Citizens and LPR’s Rerouted

Citizens and LPR’s returning from China will be allowed back in the country. However, they will be rerouted through one of seven designated airports. These airports include:

  • John F. Kennedy International Airport (New York)
  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport (Illinois)
  • San Francisco International Airport (California)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (California)
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Washington)
  • Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (Hawaii)
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (Georgia)

There are no additional costs to this mandate rerouting.

Subjecting to either mandatory or self-quarantine depending upon their circumstances to U.S. citizens and LPR’s.

Citizens and LPR’s Returning from Hubei Province

Visited Hubei Province in the 14 days preceding their return will be detained upon arrival and quarantined for up to 14 days.

Citizens and LPR’s Returning from China

Those who are returning from any other part of China will be subject to health screenings. If they exhibit symptoms, they will be referred for further evaluation. Those who do not show symptoms will be requiring self-quarantine at home and report to their local health authorities.

VISA Delays Due to Coronavirus

Officials also announced that with limited staff available at the U.S. embassy and consulates in China. Therefore, suspending visa services are temporarily. You should also be aware that staff have periodically closed these offices several times in the last few weeks. All of this means that securing visas while in China is likely to move very slowly, if at all.

If Your Visa is About to Expire?

Foreign nationals on travel or other visas that are set to expire may be able to apply for assistance from the USCIS under what is known as special circumstances. Designed to help visa holders during natural catastrophes and extreme situations. Special circumstances allow USCIS to consider extensions or status changes for visas on a case by case basis.

Given the current uncertainty and the sheer number of people who may have to claim special circumstances. Contacting the USCIS well in advance of your visa expiration date is advisable.

These visa and immigration challenges are unlikely to abate until the spread of the virus slows. Or at least until officials have more of a handle on how to contain it.

If you have questions regarding how the coronavirus and the new regulations concerning it may affect your status, please give us a call for a free case evaluation.