The US Consulates are closed: What happened to my visa application?

Since March 22, 2020, the US Embassies and Consulates worldwide have suspended all visa services due to COVID-19.  As a result, many individuals' visa applications are stuck in limbo.  Intending immigrants who are sponsored by their employers and family members are surely affected by the shut down of consular services. Even those who just wish to get a short-term visitor or business visa to enter the US are equally out of luck.  With the virus situation worsening in America, there are no definite reopening dates scheduled for most US Embassies and Consulates. 

Visas Not Issued Yet

In the midst of these uncertainties, it is important to know where one stands in the visa application process.  For immigrants, if your case is still being processed by the National Visa Center (NVC), instead of worrying about when the consulate will reopen, you should focus on completing your visa applications and gathering all required civil documents and financial documents for submission.  These are prerequisites before you can be issued an immigrant visa.  If you have already received notification by NVC that your case is "documentarily qualified," it means that NVC processing has been completed and your case is ready for the consulate visa interview (pending a few final steps such as a medical examination). In this situation, there is not much you can do now except wait for the assigned US Consulate office to reopen.  Also make sure that you maintain your visa eligibility (See below).

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Visas Have been Issued

What if your visa has already been issued?  Before the abrupt shutdown of the US Embassies and Consulates all over the world, thousands of visa applications had already been approved and visas had been issued. However, due to the travel restrictions imposed by many countries, including those by the US, these individuals with approved visas have not been able to enter the US.  By law, an immigrant visa can only be issued for a maximum of 6 months.

Hence, many immigrant visa holders now have expired or expiring visas in their passports.  The good news is that, the consulate officers have the discretionary authority to issue a new visa to an applicant, provided that the applicant continues to be eligible for the visa.  Hence, this group of visa applicants should examine their case to see if their statuses have changed or if documents need to be updated.  It is important to note that life events such as marriages and divorces could affect your eligibility under a particular visa classification. Also make sure that your documents such as passport and police clearance are not outdated.  When in doubt, one should consult with a qualified US attorney for more information.

Aging-Out Children

Immigrants with older children must also be extra careful about their children's status.  For visa categories such as Family 3rd or 4th, the dependent children may immigrate with the principal applicants before the age of 21.  If a child has already reached 21 or is aging out soon, he or she could lose eligibility to immigrate. A special law called Child Status Protection Act may be invoked to save the child's eligibility if certain legal requirements are met.  In general, close attention must be paid to cases with aging-out children.

Some Visa Appointments May Resume Soon

Even though the situation seems gloomy, there is hope in the horizon.  There were reports that some US Embassies and Consulates were planning to schedule visa appointments for non-immigrant visas such as H-1B, B-1/B-2, F-1, O-1, and L-1, including Belgium, London, Beijing and Guangzhou.  However, Trump's most recent visa ban in June may negatively impact these Consulates' plans. Even if an applicant gets a visa stamp in his/her passport, he or she is still subject to President Trump's visa ban for both immigrant and non-immigrant visas until at least the end of the year unless the person qualifies for a waiver or exemption.

Check if You Are Exempted from the Visa Ban

President Trump's visa ban is quite broad, covering all overseas immigration.  For non-immigrant visas, only H-1B, H-4, H-2B,  L-1A, L-1B, L-2, J-1 and J-2 are banned.  Hence, one may still apply for a B-1/B-2 or F-1 visa to enter the US, assuming the embassy or consulate involved is open. Moreover, there are a few exceptions to the ban: Individuals who are lawful permanent residents, spouses and children of US citizens, those who can provide temporary services essential to the US food supply chain, and other individuals whose entry will benefit the national interest of the US.  Hence, individuals who are in the health care field (e.g., nurses, technicians, researchers) and other essential areas of services may qualify for exemption. There is no strict definition. It depends on how we present the case to the US Consulate. If you believe you may qualify for exemption, see legal advice immediately. If you don't make a request, you will never know.


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