Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, Envoy Global and Global Immigration Associates, P.C. are closely monitoring U.S. travel advisories. Please do not make any international travel arrangements without checking relevant government websites and consulting your immigration legal team.
Content in this publication is not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult an Envoy-affiliated attorney or another qualified professional.
Current COVID-19 Impact on U.S. Immigration
Current impact on U.S. Immigration falls into five main categories:
- Travel bans and advisories
- Embassy and consulate closures
- USCIS field office closures
- Premium processing suspension
- USCIS policy changes
1. Travel Bans and Advisories
Canada: The U.S. and Canada mutually agreed to close their border to non-essential travel. The border closure started March 21. Non-essential travel is considered recreational or tourism in nature. This measure will be reviewed after 30 days.
Mexico: On March 20, the U.S. and Mexico mutually agreed to their border to non-essential travel. The border closure also started March 21 and will be reviewed after 30 days.
UK and Ireland: On March 14, the European travel suspension was extended to include UK and Ireland, which became effective midnight EDT on March 16. This applies to individuals who are not U.S. citizens or LPRs and who have spent time in the prior 14 days in the UK or Ireland.
European Schengen Area: On March 12, travel suspension was announced for the 26 European Schengen Area countries. This suspension is effective for 30 days, starting midnight EDT on March 13 and applies to individuals who are not U.S. citizens or LPRs and who have spent time in the prior 14 days in the Schengen Area.
China and Iran: Entry to the U.S. is suspended for individuals who are not U.S. citizens or LPRs and who have been in China or Iran during the 14 days prior to their intended U.S. entry.
U.S. Citizens and LPRs: U.S. citizens and LPRs who do travel from countries with a travel ban in place may be subject to entering the U.S. at one of 13 designated airports, undergoing enhanced medical screenings and required to self-quarantine.
Exceptions: Only limited exceptions apply to the above travel restrictions, these can include, but not limited to: Spouses of US citizens and LPRs; Parents with children (under 21, unmarried) who are US citizens or LPRs; Members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
We have provided a link on all exceptions in the Envoy COVID-19 Resource Center. In all instances please contact your immigration legal team if you have questions about whether you'd be able to enter the U.S.
State Department advisory: On March 19, the U.S. State Department issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory (the highest level possible). This means:
- U.S. citizens are advised to avoid all international travel
- U.S. citizens who live in the U.S. should immediately return to the U.S. if commercial departures are still available or prepare to shelter in place at their current location if they are willing to remain overseas for an indefinite period
- U.S. citizens who live abroad are advised to avoid all international travel.
2. Embassy and Consulate Closures
The State Department has suspended all routine immigrant and non-immigrant visas at its embassies and consulates in countries with a Travel Advisory of Level 2, 3 or 4.
The State Department announced this news in a March 18 statement.
There are several key points to note:
- Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fees will be valid for another appointment within one year of payment date
- Visa waiver program not affected (though travel bans apply to many of those countries)
- Embassy services for U.S. citizens are not impacted
Level 2, 3 and 4 Travel Advisory countries include: Brazil, China, UK, most European countries, India, Ireland, Israel and South Korea
3. USCIS Field Office Closures
On March 18, USCIS announced that it has suspended in-person services at field offices, asylum offices and Application Support Centers (ASCs) This is effective until April 1.
Impact: As a result of the above closures, the following services will be cancelled:
- Scheduled in-person appointments (including biometrics appointments)
- Naturalization ceremonies
USCIS has said these services will be rescheduled once offices re-open.
Emergencies: USCIS is able to use its discretion in special situations (e.g., severe economic hardship) but these are highly restricted and assessed on a case-by-case basis.
USCIS visa processing: As of now, there has been no change to NIV or IV processing outside of the areas outlined above.
4. Premium Processing Suspension
USCIS announced it has temporarily suspended premium processing for all I-129 and I-140 petitions due to coronavirus.
Visa categories impacted by this decision include the following:
Form I-129 visa categories: E-1, E-2, H-1B, H-1B, H-3, L-1A, L-1B, LZ, O-1, O-2, P-1, P-1S, P-2, P-2S, P-3, P-3S, Q-1, R-1, TN-1 and TN-2.
Form I-140: EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3
5. USCIS Policy Changes
USCIS announced that it will accept all benefit forms and documents with reproduced original signatures, including Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant.
This applies for submission starting March 21, 2020. This change impacts signatories for employers and foreign nationals seeking an immigration benefit and will help with the challenges employers and law firms will experience due to the COVID-19 outbreak.