Welcome back to the Immigration Lawyer Blog, and Happy New Year! We are excited to have you back. We hope you had a wonderful holiday break with your family and are ready to jump back into the latest in immigration news in the new year. In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick shares the latest update regarding the operational status of U.S. Consulates and Embassies worldwide during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Want to know more? Just keep on watching.
First let’s start with some good news. In October of last year, the Biden administration took some major steps toward opening the United States to international travelers, lifting many of the COVID-19 related geographic travel bans that were put in place by the Trump administration to reduce the rapid spread of COVID-19. To provide relief to visa holders, President Biden later signed a Proclamation allowing fully vaccinated international travelers to enter the United States beginning November 8, 2021, regardless of their country of origin. At the same time the Proclamation, revoked the previous geographic travel bans including Proclamation 9984, Proclamation 9992, Proclamation 10143, and Proclamation 10199 for those fully vaccinated.
Unfortunately, U.S. Embassies and Consulates have been slow to adapt to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with many posts still limiting operational capacity based on country conditions and local regulations. Services have not returned to pre-pandemic levels and there is simply no semblance of normalcy at the Consular level. This has been extremely frustrating for visa applicants who have been waiting in the massive visa backlogs for an interview. According to Department of State statistics, approximately 90% of Consular posts continue to be subject to pandemic related restrictions with some partially open and others providing very limited services.
Because most Embassies and Consulates are not fully operational, many applicants currently in the United States that have filed and received approvals for work visa related petitions with USCIS such as H-1B, O-1, E-2 petition-related approvals, etc. have not been able to leave the United States to return to their home country for visa stamping. This has caused even greater frustration among applicants who are essentially “trapped” in the United States due to their inability to obtain an appointment for visa stamping. That is because applicants encounter greater risks when they choose to leave the United States, due to the uncertain and indefinite amount of time they could be waiting for a visa stamping appointment to become available while overseas. An even greater fear is the risk that the applicant may lose his or her job while waiting for an appointment that may not come for a very long time.
There is no magic solution to this lamentable situation. Consulates are facing mounting demand with few officers that can accommodate the large volume of applications that must be processed and adjudicated. Even worse, the COVID-19 related restrictions and local regulations have greatly limited the number of interviews that can be conducted in any given day, due to social distancing protocols.
To help reduce the substantial backlogs, stakeholders have urged the Department of State to conduct remote visa interviews and waive in-person interviews altogether for at least certain qualifying applicants such as visa renewal applicants. We know that at least some Consular posts have used their discretion to grant interview waivers to certain categories of immigrants.
Those who wish to review the current interview waiver guidelines for certain immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants should monitor the DOS U.S. Visa News webpage on a regular basis here.
What is appointment availability like from country-to-country?
This is a great question, and the answer is that appointment availability largely depends on the Consular post you are dealing with. Some Consular posts have less demand than others and may be subject to less stringent COVID-19 related restrictions, while others in regions with high rates of COVID are taking additional precautions to safeguard the public health and safety of visitors and employees. Consular posts in India and the Philippines for example are facing massive backlogs, while others like Stockholm are more proficient. It is also important to highlight that the waiting period for a visa appointment at Consulates that fare better than others is still taking several months.
There is no doubt that visa applicants stuck in the visa backlogs should consider speaking to an experienced immigration attorney to discuss whether they meet the criteria for expedited processing or a National Interest Exception to receive a faster interview appointment. Again, such expedite requests are approved on a case-by-case basis and the waiting period for approval even for cases with a high degree of merit is still a matter of months (not days or weeks).
What does the operational status of Embassies and Consulates look like in 2022?
While we enter 2022, we hope that more will be done to improve the operational capacity of U.S. Embassies and Consular posts overseas. At the moment we are seeing more and more discretionary power being used to waive interviews for certain classes of immigrants. The Department of State is also planning to train and hire more Consular officers to handle the pent-up demand. Additionally, some Consulates with less demand are allowing third country nationals to apply for visas and be interviewed at their posts. While such measures are beneficial, realistically they are unlikely to provide any broad sense of relief without further action by President Biden and the Secretary of State.
As always any new developments relating to the operational capacity of posts and policy changes will be discussed right here on our blog.
To find out more about the operational capacity of your U.S. Embassy or Consulate visit their website and click on “immigrant” or “nonimmigrant” visa on the navigational tab. Remember that you can contact the National Visa Center to ensure your case is documentarily qualified and inquire on its potential transfer to the Consular post abroad. If you believe that you are eligible for expedited processing of your case and/or a National Interest Exception, we invite you to contact our office to evaluate your case and determine eligibility.
Contact Us Today. We hope that this information was helpful. If you have any further questions or would like to schedule a consultation, please text 619-483-4549 or call 619-819-9204.
- U.S. Embassies and Consulates
- Department of State U.S. Visa News
- January 2022 Visa Bulletin
- NVC Contact Information
- Immigrant Visa Prioritization Schedule
- Law Offices of Jacob Sapochnick YouTube Channel
- NVC Immigrant Visa Backlog Report
- List of Embassies and Consulates
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