Welcome back to the Immigration Lawyer Blog, where we discuss all things immigration. In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick shares with you why more than 100,000 U.S. Citizens are stuck overseas unable to renew their U.S. passports. Additionally, Jacob discusses the reason behind the denied entry of thousands of green card holders who have remained overseas for more than a year, and the status of visa services for U.S. Citizens and legal permanent residents at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad. Tune in to learn more about what you can do, if you are a U.S. Citizen or green card holder currently stuck overseas during the Embassy closures.
Want to know more? Keep on watching.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, Consular appointments for U.S. Citizens have been nearly impossible to obtain. That is because public health and safety remain a paramount concern during the COVID-19 health crisis. The unprecedented circumstances surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic have unfortunately prompted U.S. Consulates and Embassies worldwide to drastically scale back visa operations, including the services that can be provided. Embassies and Consulates have said that visa operations will not resume as normal until it is safe to do so. The social distancing protocols and local quarantines have also had an impact on the volume of people that can be seen for visa appointments, making them a lot more difficult to come by.
This reduction of visa services has not just impacted immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants, but also U.S. Citizens and legal permanent residents living overseas.
We have recently learned that approximately 100,000 U.S. Citizens have been unable to obtain appointments to renew their U.S. passports, resulting in a travel crisis for many. These Americans have unfortunately found themselves stuck overseas with no certainty as to when appointments will open for passport renewals.
Similarly, hundreds of thousands of green card holders have also found themselves stuck outside of the United States, in many cases for more than a year, at great risk to their immigration status. Generally, permanent residents who have remained outside of the United States for more than one year, risk abandoning their green card status, and are denied entry to the United States, unless they have received either (1) received a re-entry permit from USCIS prior to leaving the United States or (2) have received a returning resident visa at a Consular post abroad. The second option presents a Catch 22 for green card applicants, since most Consular posts do not have appointment slots to issue returning resident visas in the first place.
Of course, this situation has unfolded through no fault of their own. Green card holders have simply been unable to make travel arrangements to re-enter the United States, due to the various quarantines and travel restrictions stemming from COVID-19.
Even those applicants who have tried to schedule an appointment have failed due to the scarcity of appointments and very low capacity at most posts. For instance, the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, Israel is currently facing a backlog of more than 15,000 passport applications, while the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City has no appointment availability at all.
Americans with children born abroad are also facing difficulties since Consulates and Embassies do not have appointment availability to report a Consular birth abroad. In Europe, there are virtually no appointments being scheduled.
What are the current backlogs being faced at Embassies and Consulates overseas?
As of late April 2021, 75% of U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad remained closed. In terms of backlogs faced for immigrant visa processing, in January 2020 the Department of State reported a backlog of approximately 75,000 immigrant visas in line for an interview. The following year in February 2021, the backlog increased dramatically to 473,000 for immigrant visas pending an interview.
Passport Renewals – Inside and Outside the U.S.
Those trying to renew a passport inside the United States can expect to wait 10-12 weeks for processing of their passports once a renewal application has been sent to the Department of State by mail. Expedited passport applications take about 4 to 6 weeks to process.
Unfortunately, the process to renew a passport outside of the United States is more difficult because applicants do not have the option of mailing in their application. Instead, those who are overseas have no choice but to wait for the Embassy or Consulate to process the application. In addition, expedited service does not apply outside of the United States.
What can passport applicant’s do if they are stuck overseas?
If you are stuck overseas and your passport is about to expire, but has not yet expired, you should plan to return to the United States before your passport expires. That way you can go through the passport renewal process from inside the United States, and not have to be at the mercy of visa appointment availability at an Embassy abroad.
Those whose passports have already expired should monitor their Embassy webpage very closely. Many U.S. Embassies and Consulates have an online appointment system that can be accessed through an applicant portal. Any available visa appointments will be listed on the online appointment system. While visa openings are not guaranteed, applicants should be diligent and proactive while they are waiting.
As an alternative, there are also broker services that specialize in helping applicants obtain visa appointments. You may consider this option if you need to travel urgently. However, you should use your due diligence and research these broker services carefully to ensure you are not the victim of a scam.
Solutions for Green Card Holders Stranded Overseas
As mentioned previously, green card holders stranded overseas are not able to apply for returning resident visas due to the limited operational capacity of Embassies and Consulates worldwide.
Such applicants may consider traveling to the United States as soon as they can, bringing with them documentary evidence to show U.S. Customs and Border Protection that the only reason for their prolonged absence was due to the ongoing travel restrictions caused by the pandemic, and such relevant circumstances that were beyond their control.
Those green card holders who have been prevented from boarding flights to the United States, due to abandonment of status issues, should contact the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Carrier Liaison Group, either through a supervisor of the airline or directly, to explain your situation and help resolve your issues.
While Americans and green card holders wait for the global situation to improve, it is important for them to closely monitor their Embassy’s website for new updates, as well as the Department of State’s webpage to receive the most recent information about visa operations at Embassies and Consulates. As always, we will report any new developments right here on our blog.
Want to know more? If you would like to schedule a consultation, please text 619-483-4549 or call 619-819-9204.
- List of U.S. Embassies and Consulates
- U.S. Passport Renewal Processing Times Inside U.S.
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection Carrier Liaison Group
- Department of State U.S. Visa News
- Blog Post Immigration Visa Prioritization Four-Tiered Approach
- DOS Visa Services Operating Status Update
- COVID-19 Presidential Proclamations
- ImmigrationU Membership
- Success stories
- Youtube channel
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