U.S. Visa Services Applications, More Movement but Also Some Status Quo
In March 2020, visa services are suspended until further notice by the U.S. embassies and consulates. This move effectively halted most VISA application processing but in particular all in-person services, including interviews. This suspension, however, did not affect the VISA waiver program and exemptions have been granted for the H2 Visa Program.
The situation continues to evolve rapidly as the pandemic wanes in some regions of the world even as it continues to wreak havoc in others. We are keeping a close eye on the situation and will keep you posted about any new developments.
In the meantime, here is the current state of visa services and U.S. consulates and embassies.
The Many Factors at Play
In addition to responses from the U.S. agencies and proclamations from the White House. There are country-specific factors which are also affecting the services provided at U.S. embassies and consulates.
Travel bans continue, restricting travel to and from specific countries. Most recently, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) recently announced a moratorium on travel to Brazil. There have also been bans enacted by countries that prohibit travel between certain other countries and via specific countries.
Responses from other countries also have restricted activities at U.S. embassies and consulates to the COVID-19 crisis. For example, Russia recently closed the U.S. embassy there in response to COVID-19.
The reopening of consular calendars is dependent on both U.S. guidance and conditions in the host country, so progress related to reopening varies widely. Embassies in France and Sweden, for example, are beginning to accept appointments for July and August while embassies in China, Brazil and India remain closed. Check with your local embassy or consulate regularly as statuses are changing rapidly. Once calendars open, they are likely to fill quickly.
The U.S. State Department maintains a list of embassy and consular websites you can access to check the status of your local embassy.
Visa Services Waiver Program
In a bit of good news, the Visa Waiver Program has remained unaffected by these limitations on services. This program grants temporary admission to the U.S. for up to ninety days by citizens of participating countries.
Emergency Visa Services
The DOS is also continuing with emergency VISA services at most locations and urges applicants to check embassy websites for more information about making emergency appointments. The DOS typically grants emergency appointments for urgent matters pertaining to air and sea crews or medical personnel, particularly those working to treat or mitigate the effects of COVID-19.
H-2 Worker Visas
A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) temporary final rule published on May 14, slightly eases restrictions for employers and workers holding H-2B Visas, particularly those deemed essential to the U.S. food supply chain. This rule change applies only to H-2B Visa holders who are currently in the U.S. and in valid H-2B status as of March 1, 2020.
Under this temporary final rule, employers can start employing H-2B workers as of the employment date on the application and immediately after the UCIS receives the H-2B petition and new attestation. It will also allow certain H-2B employers with petitions filed after May 14 to request flexibilities by submitting a new Form ATT-H2B attestation.
Additionally, the DHS will allow individual H-2B workers to stay beyond the usual three-year maximum stay in the United States.
The temporary rule is to remain in effect through September 11, 2020.
Resumption of Field and Asylum Office Service
Beginning June 4, 2020, the U.S. government announced that specific U.S. Customs and Immigration Service (UCIS) field and asylum offices would start to resume non-emergency fact to face services. This is excellent news, but it is far from business as usual.
Not all offices are reopening, and many are doing so with substantially reduced hours. Application support centers, for example, will remain closed beyond June 4 but are expected to reopen at a later date. Those offices that are reopening are planning to accept a significantly reduced number of appointments each day. Walk-ins will not be allowed. There will also be other restrictions and precautions put into place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Premium Processing Reopens
Suspension of premium processing on March 20th was for two months due to the COIVD-19 pandemic. UCIS recently announced that it will once again be accepting premium fees and requests for expedited adjudication. The UCIS is using a phased-in approach but has also warned that these dates are subject to change:
- June 1 – I-140 petitions
- June 8 – H-1B petitions pending adjudication and cap-exempt; previously filed I-129 petitions
- June 15 – H-1B petitions requesting premium processing through an I-907 and I-129 and cap-exempt
- June 22 – All other I-129 forms and all H-1B cap-subject petitions
H-1B petitioners selected in the March 2020 lottery are not allowed to request premium processing until the very last phase on June 22. However, USCIS appears to be adjudicating many of these “cap-subject” petitions more rapidly than expected under regular processing
The rules and specifics of the reopening of premium processing are complex, and it is a good idea to contact your legal team for clarification on precisely what the UCIS is accepting at each stage of the reopening.
If you’re considering an application for a VISA to the U.S. monitor your local embassy and this site carefully. We’ll post updates as they become available. If you have specific questions for us, please contact us.