While personal and business travel needs have continued throughout the pandemic, the combined impact of significantly reduced operations at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide, as well as various Presidential Proclamations, have dramatically reduced the number of work visas issued abroad. For instance, the State Department's monthly nonimmigrant visa issuance statistics show that the issuance of H-1B visas at some of busiest consulates has decreased over 90% when compared to a year ago. U.S. Consulates and Embassies around the world continue to operate at much reduced capacity for visa appointments with many consulates operating with restricted services accepting only mission-critical or life-and-death emergency appointments. Visa appointment wait times for specific consulates can be found on the State Department's website along with guidance on current consular operations.
In addition, various Presidential Proclamations have continued to restrict and complicate the entry of foreign nationals traveling from or recently present in certain countries. Some or all of these travel restrictions could be reversed by President-elect Biden when he takes office in January 2021. However, each of these country-specific Proclamations will remain in effect until specifically rescinded. A separate Presidential Proclamation prohibited the issuance of new H-1B specialty occupation, L-1 intracompany transferee, and certain J-1 exchange visitor visas, citing the pandemic's effect on the U.S. labor market. The H/L/J visa ban expires on December 31, 2020 but could be extended by the outgoing Trump administration. National Interest Exceptions are available; however, the process and criteria differ depending on the implicated Proclamation(s), the visa class and local conditions.
Once U.S. Consulates resume more regular visa services, significant backlogs likely will continue to cause long wait times for visa appointments. Given the overlapping nature of these travel restrictions and the ongoing fluidity of the global pandemic, employers and foreign national employees are well advised to seek counsel well in advance of any international travel.
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