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COVID-19 Updates: DOS Announces Extension for Immigrant Visa Medical Exams, When Will Consulates Resume Visa Services, SEVP Guidance for International Students, and National Interest Exceptions for Presidential Proclamations Restricting Travel

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In this blog post we share with our readers several new developments in immigration relating to COVID-19.

At a Glance: What’s in This Blog?

  • DOS Announces One-Month Extension for Immigrant Visa Medical Examinations
  • Phased Resumption of Routine Visa Services
  • DOS Releases SEVP Online Course Guidance for F and M Students for Fall 2020
  • When will the Presidential Proclamation Suspending Entry for the Schengen Countries be Lifted?
  • Are there any National Interest Exceptions for Certain Travelers from the Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland?
  • Are there any National Interest Exceptions to Presidential Proclamations (10014 & 10052) Suspending the Entry of Immigrants and Nonimmigrants Presenting a Risk to the United States Labor Market?

DOS Announces One-Month Extension for Immigrant Visa Medical Examinations


We are pleased to report that on July 24, 2020, the Department of State issued an important announcement confirming that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have approved a one-month extension for medical examinations conducted between January 1, 2020 and June 30, 2020. As many of you know, medical examinations for immigrant visa applicants are valid for a maximum of six months.

The Department of State has advised applicants (1) who were unable to travel on an issued visa, or (2) who obtained a medical examination but did not receive a visa, to contact the Immigrant Visa Unit of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate that issued or is adjudicating your visa application to determine whether you may be issued or reissued a visa for one additional month. Applicants who are unable to travel within one additional month, should consider waiting until they are able to travel to obtain a new, full validity medical examination and visa.


Phased Resumption of Routine Visa Services

In March 2020 the Department of State suspended routine visa services worldwide in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. On July 14, 2020 the Department of State released information on its webpage notifying the public that resumption of routine visa services will occur on a post-by post basis, in coordination with the Department’s Diplomacy Strong framework to safely return personnel to Department facilities. With that being said, the Department of State cannot provide a specific date for when each Consular post will return to processing at pre-Covid workload levels. Applicants are advised to monitor each individual U.S. Embassy or Consulate’s website for information regarding operating status, and updates on which services they are currently offering.

As always, U.S. Embassies and Consulates will continue to provide emergency and critical visa services.

The DOS has also stated that MRV fees are valid and may be used to schedule a visa appointment in the country where it was purchased within one year of the date of payment.

  • For more information about this announcement and FAQs please click here.
  • For a list of Embassies and Consular webpages click here.


DOS Releases SEVP Online Course Guidance for F and M Students for Fall 2020

On July 24, 2020 the Department of State issued important guidance for F and M Students taking online courses for Fall 2020.

According to the announcement, nonimmigrant students and schools certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) should abide by SEVP guidance originally issued in March 20, which allows some distance learning in excess of regulatory limits due to the public health emergency generated by COVID-19.

Accordingly, students who satisfy SEVP requirements as reflected on the DHS Form I-20 and in SEVIS may qualify for student visas.

International students must obtain the appropriate visa before traveling and may still be subject to visa processing and travel restrictions due to COVID-19. Students should keep in mind that several presidential proclamations have been issued that temporarily suspend the entry of nationals that have been physically present in Iran, China, Brazil, the Schengen countries, etc. within the 14-day period preceding their entry into the United States. Students should check with the local U.S. Embassy or Consulate to ensure that travel restrictions are not in place for their specific country.

DOS has provided the following answers to Frequently Asked Questions by students:

Do students at universities doing hybrid virtual / in person programs need to obtain a new I-20 form?

  • Student visa applicants should bring their latest I-20 form (Certificate of Eligibility) issued by their university to their visa interview.  International students must obtain the appropriate visa before traveling, and may still be subject to visa processing and travel restrictions due to COVID-19.  Students should check with the local U.S. embassy or consulate for information specific to their country.

Do students who already have valid visas but are outside of the United States need a new visa before they attempt to travel to the United States?

  • No, students with valid visas do not need to apply for a new visa before traveling to the United States to resume their studies.  However, students may still be subject to travel restrictions due to COVID-19.  Students should check with the local U.S. embassy or consulate for information specific to their country.

Will a student enrolling for the first time in Fall 2020 (i.e. the student was not enrolled as of March 9, 2020) qualify for a student visa if their coursework is 100% online?

  • Only students who have a valid I-20 form (Certificate of Eligibility) issued by their university may qualify for an F or M student visa.  Students and the schools that admit them should follow SEVP guidance.
  • International students must obtain the appropriate visa before traveling, and may still be subject to visa processing and travel restrictions due to COVID-19.  Students should check with the local U.S. embassy or consulate for information specific to their country.

Q: Is global visa processing still suspended? How will students make it to campus on time for the fall semester if visa services are suspended in so many locations?

  • U.S. embassies and consulates recently began a phased resumption of routine visa services.  The resumption of routine services is on a post-by-post basis, in accordance with the State Department’s Diplomacy Strong framework for safely returning our workforce to Department facilities.
  • Student visas are a high priority, and we will make every effort to assist student visa applicants in a timely fashion, while keeping our staff and customers safe.
  • Applicants with an urgent matter who need to travel immediately should follow the guidance provided on their nearest embassy or consulate’s website to request an emergency appointment.

Q: What is the difference between F, M, and J student visas?

  • The F visa is for academic students, the M visa is for technical/vocational students, and the J visa is for exchange visitors.

For more information please click here.


When will the Presidential Proclamation Suspending Entry for the Schengen Countries be Lifted?

Unfortunately on June 19, 2020 the Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnancy confirmed that for now the President has no plans to lift restrictions for the Schengen area but certain travelers may qualify for a national interest exception.


Are there any National Interest Exceptions for Certain Travelers from the Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland?

Yes. On July 22nd the Department of State announced that certain business travelers, investors, treaty traders, academics, and students may qualify for national interest exceptions under Presidential Proclamations (PPs) 9993 (Schengen Area) and 9996 (United Kingdom and Ireland). Qualified business and student travelers who are applying for or have valid visas or ESTA authorization may travel to the United States even as PPs 9993 and 9996 remain in effect following the procedures below.

F-1 and M-1 Students from Schengen Area, UK, and Ireland Automatically Qualify for a National Interest Exception and May Enter the United States Despite the Presidential Proclamation

Students traveling from the Schengen Area, the UK, and Ireland with valid F-1 and M-1 visas do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual national interest exception to travel. Students seeking to apply for new F-1 or M-1 visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest embassy or consulate; those applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for a national interest exception to travel.

Business Travelers, Academics, J-1 students, E-2 and EB-5 investors from Schengen Area May Apply for a National Interest Exception

Business travelers, investors, academics, J-1 students, and treaty traders who have a valid visa or ESTA authorization that was issued prior to PP 9993 or 9996’s effective date or who are seeking to apply for a visa, and believe they may qualify for a national interest exception should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate before traveling. If a national interest exception is approved, they may travel on either a valid visa or ESTA authorization, as appropriate.

Humanitarian Travel, Public Health Response, and National Security Applicants from Schengen Area May Apply for a National Interest Exception

The Department of State also continues to grant national interest exceptions for qualified travelers seeking to enter the United States for purposes related to humanitarian travel, public health response, and national security.


Are there any National Interest Exceptions to Presidential Proclamations (10014 & 10052) Suspending the Entry of Immigrants and Nonimmigrants Presenting a Risk to the United States Labor Market?

Yes. The DOS has also provided a non-exhaustive list of exceptions under P.P. 10052 for certain travel in the national interest by certain H-1B, H-2B, J-1, L-1, H-4, J-2, L-2 nonimmigrants as follows:

  • For H-1Bs, exceptions are available in these situations:
    • For travel as a public health or healthcare professional, or researcher to alleviate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, or to conduct ongoing medical research in an area with a substantial public health benefit (e.g. cancer or communicable disease research). This includes those traveling to alleviate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that may be a secondary effect of the pandemic (e.g., travel by a public health or healthcare professional, or researcher in an area of public health or healthcare that is not directly related to COVID-19, but which has been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic).
    • Travel supported by a request from a U.S. government agency or entity to meet critical U.S. foreign policy objectives or to satisfy treaty or contractual obligations. This would include individuals, identified by the Department of Defense or another U.S. government agency, performing research, providing IT support/services, or engaging other similar projects essential to a U.S. government agency.
  • For H-2Bs, exceptions are available in this situation:
    • Travel based on a request from a U.S. government agency or entity to meet critical foreign policy objectives or to satisfy treaty or contractual obligations. An example of this would be supporting U.S. military base construction (e.g. associated with the National Defense Authorization Act) or IT infrastructure.
  • For J-1 visas, exceptions are available in these situations:
    • Travel to provide care for a minor U.S. citizen, LPR, or nonimmigrant in lawful status by an au pair possessing special skills required for a child with particular needs (e.g., medical, special education, or sign language). Childcare services provided for a child with medical issues diagnosed by a qualified medical professional by an individual who possesses skills to care for such child will be considered to be in the national interest.
    • Travel by an au pair that prevents a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident, or other nonimmigrant in lawful status from becoming a public health charge or ward of the state of a medical or other public funded institution.
    • Childcare services provided for a child whose parents are involved with the provision of medical care to individuals who have contracted COVID-19 or medical research at United States facilities to help the United States combat COVID-19.
    • An exchange program conducted pursuant to an MOU, Statement of Intent, or other valid agreement or arrangement between a foreign government and any federal, state, or local government entity in the United States that is designed to promote U.S. national interests if the agreement or arrangement with the foreign government was in effect prior to the effective date of the Presidential Proclamation.
    • Interns and Trainees on U.S. government agency-sponsored programs (those with a program number beginning with “G-3” on Form DS-2019): An exchange visitor participating in an exchange visitor program in which he or she will be hosted by a U.S. government agency and the program supports the immediate and continued economic recovery of the United States.
    • Specialized Teachers in Accredited Educational Institutions with a program number beginning with “G-5” on Form DS-2019: An exchange visitor participating in an exchange program in which he or she will teach full-time, including a substantial portion that is in person, in a publicly or privately operated primary or secondary accredited educational institution where the applicant demonstrates ability to make a specialized contribution to the education of students in the United States. A “specialized teacher” applicant must demonstrate native or near-native foreign language proficiency and the ability to teach his/her assigned subject(s) in that language.
    • Critical foreign policy objectives: This only includes programs where an exchange visitor participating in an exchange program that fulfills critical and time sensitive foreign policy objectives.
  • For L-1 visas, exceptions are available in this situation:
    • Travel as a public health or healthcare professional, or researcher to alleviate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, or to conduct ongoing medical research in an area with a substantial public health benefit. This includes those traveling to alleviate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that may be a secondary effect of the pandemic.
  • H-4, L-2, and J-2 visas exceptions:
    • National interest exceptions are available for those who will accompany or follow to join a principal applicant who is a spouse or parent and who is not subject to P.P. 10052 (including those that have been granted a national interest exception). This exception can be extended to derivative applicants when the principal is currently in the United States or has a valid visa.

Exceptions under P.P. 10014 for certain travel in the national interest by immigrants may include the following

  • Applicants who are subject to aging out of their current immigrant visa classification before P.P. 10014 expires or within two weeks thereafter.

Travelers who believe their travel falls into one of these categories or is otherwise in the national interest may request a visa application appointment at the closest Embassy or Consulate and a decision will be made at the time of interview as to whether the traveler has established that they are eligible for a visa pursuant to an exception. Travelers are encouraged to refer to the Embassy/Consulate website for detailed instructions on what services are currently available and how to request an appointment.

The Department of State will continue to issue H-4, L-2, and J-2 visas to otherwise qualified derivative applicants who qualify for a national interest exception, such as those seeking to join a principal applicant currently in the United States.

Applicants for immigrant visas covered by Presidential Proclamation 10014, as extended by P.P. 10052, including Diversity Visa 2020 (DV-2020) applicants, who have not been issued an immigrant visa as of April 23 are subject to the proclamation’s restrictions unless they can establish that they are eligible for an exception. No valid visas will be revoked under this proclamation.


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