Welcome back to the Immigration Lawyer Blog, where we discuss all things immigration. In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick provides his latest immigration update on the operational status of U.S. Embassies and Consulates overseas processing immigrant visa applications.
Want to know what you can expect regarding the COVID-19 related visa backlogs? Just keep on watching for more information.
The Department of State guidelines on the processing of immigrant visas during the COVID-19 health crisis remains a great obstacle for family reunification. The agency has said that while it is prioritizing the scheduling of immediate relative visas, fiancé(e) visas, and returning resident visa interviews, local country conditions continue to pose challenges. Social distancing protocols, restrictions on movement, and gathering imposed by host country governments has limited the ability of Consulates and Embassies to schedule sufficient visa appointments to meet the ongoing demand. Separately, the Biden administration has continued to enforce the geographic COVID-19 related Presidential Proclamations that prevent foreign nationals physically residing in the Schengen countries, United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, South Africa, India, and China from entering unless they have applied for and received a National Interest Exception.
What’s been happening as of August 2021?
The CATO institute reports that during the month of August of 2021, 62% of Embassies and Consulates worldwide remained closed or partially open with limited operational capacity for non-immigrant visas. Embassies and Consulates that have remained partially open have not been scheduling routine nonimmigrant visa appointments when compared to pre-pandemic levels. Furthermore, the only non-immigrant visa appointments being considered are cases submitted as expedite requests, National Interest Exception cases, and emergency cases. Posts that have remained closed have only been reviewing emergency and National Interest Exception cases. Of course, with 62% of posts offering limited visa services, the non-immigrant visa backlog will continue for many months to come. You may be asking yourself what about the remaining 40 percent? The remaining posts have been closed to the public and are only considering emergency cases. For that reason, applicants should consider the option of filing an expedite or National Interest Exception request if they are eligible, to push their case ahead of the massive backlogs.
It is puzzling that the Department of State has not done more to help Embassies and Consulates decrease the substantial backlogs to satisfy the goal of family reunification. As recommended by the CDC, personnel at Consular posts worldwide have already received the COVID-19 vaccination series. In addition, all travelers entering the United States have been required to present a negative COVID-19 test at the port of entry. These protocols have decreased the risk of transmission of COVID-19, yet additional slots for visa interview appointments have not been opened. The Department of State has stated that Consular posts cannot waive the in-person interview requirement due to statutory law. However, the law itself grants the Department of State the discretionary power to waive in-person interviews if there are unusual or emergent circumstances. The current COVID-19 global health crisis lends itself to an unusual and emergent circumstance, however the Department of State has been unwilling to grant interview waivers. USCIS on the other hand has been granting interview waivers mostly for employment based green card applicants to help push cases along.
While the Department of State itself does not release statistics regarding non-immigrant visa processing at its Consular posts and Embassies worldwide, several research institutes have released their own data. As of August 19, 2021, of the 237 posts that are currently issuing visas, only 89 of those were issuing non-immigrant visas, student visas, and other employment nonimmigrant visas. Out of the 237 posts that are currently issuing visas, only 54 were partially open and issuing visas. No appointments were available outside of emergency or special National Interest Exception requests. 94 of the 237 Consular posts were completely closed to nonimmigrant visa processing. That means that more Consulates were closed in August than were open.
To read about the current status of U.S. visa services at Consulates and Embassies worldwide click here.
With 62% of Embassies and Consulates worldwide closed or partially open, it is expected that most Consular posts will not fully reopen services for non-immigrant visas until early 2023. That means that the situation is not getting any better and applicants should continue to expect significant delays. Those who qualify for expedited processing, or a National Interest Exception should consult with an attorney to discuss their options.
As of August 1, 2021, the Department of State reported a backlog of more than 547,000 immigrant visa cases sitting at the National Visa Center. Out of applicants who were documentarily qualified, only 33,000 were scheduled for interviews. As a result, more and more applicants have been requesting expedited processing of their cases and/or submitting National Interest Exception requests. Those who have been unsuccessful in their expedite requests have also sought to file mandamus lawsuits against the State Department. If you would like to know more about current immigrant visa processing and the prioritization schedule, please click here.
We hope that this video was helpful. If you are a non-immigrant visa applicant and you believe you qualify for an expedite or National Interest Exception request, please contact our office to schedule a consultation, text 619-569-1768 or call 619-819-9204.
- DOS Youtube Channel
- DOS U.S. Visa Updates
- September 2021 Visa Bulletin
- How to Submit Documents to NVC
- NVC Immigrant Visa Backlog Report
- List of Embassies and Consulates
- Youtube channel
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