On March 20, 2020, in response to the significant widespread concerns regarding COVID-19, the U.S. Department of State declared that it is suspending routine visa processing at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide until further notice. The notice further stated as of March 20, 2020, embassies and consulates cancel all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments. However, embassies and consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services depending on available resources.
Per the US Department of State website, the following services will continue to be available:
- Services to U.S. citizens continue to be available. More information is available on each Embassy’s website.
- This does not affect the Visa Waiver Program (“ESTA”)
- Although all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments are cancelled, the Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fee is valid and may be used for a visa appointment in the country where it was purchased within one year of the date of payment.
- Applicants with an urgent matter and need to travel immediately should follow the guidance provided at the Embassy’s website to request an emergency appointment.
While necessary to support public health, the suspension of consular operations presents significant difficulties for nonimmigrant workers who otherwise have valid approved petitions to begin work in the United States or have received extension approvals on their underlying visas and are not able to attend their visa interviews until the embassy or consular posts are able to process such visa applications. This also presents undue burden on employers in the United States who are awaiting the arrival of employees or the return of employees whose extension petitions have been approved.
An example of how the temporary suspension is affecting United States employers are farms that rely upon seasonal H-2A visas for agricultural workers and H-2B visas for seasonal laborers that are not able to bring those workers into the United States to start working during harvest season. More than ever, with concerns about food shortage, farms that produce much of the food for this country are not able to efficiently harvest their crops without the necessary workforce needed to do so.
As with most immigration matters evolving around COVID-19, policies are quickly changing. It is therefore highly recommended that employers stay in contact with their attorneys at Harris Beach PLLC to learn about new developments that may lessen the current restrictions on visas. Likewise, we will also continue to monitor any changes on visa processing. Visit our COVID-19 response page for resources and updates.
Our Immigration Law Practice Group includes immigration attorneys that work across New York state in our Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, Long Island, New York City, Rochester and Syracuse offices. Our immigration lawyers focus on strategies – including immigrant visas for permanent U.S. resident status and temporary visas for foreign nationals – to ensure that employers are able to hire, transfer, and retain the brightest and best non-U.S. talent.