Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! We are excited to bring you a newly released update from the Department of State regarding the operational status of visa services at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide.
As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc around the world forcing the majority of U.S. Embassies and Consulates to scale down operations due to reduced staff, limited resources, and constraints having to do with local conditions and restrictions, including local and national lockdowns, travel restrictions, and other measures that have been taken by U.S. Embassies and Consulates to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Due to these restrictions, the majority of U.S. Embassies and Consulates have dramatically reduced their appointment capacity. This has in turn created substantial backlogs of immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applications awaiting a visa interview. Many have already been documentarily qualified by the NVC and have not been able to proceed with visa processing due to the Embassy’s inability to open new appointments for applicants.
As a result, Consular posts and Embassies have been following a “phased resumption” of visa services framework, meaning that each post will carefully assess its country conditions and its resources, to gradually determine when it can resume visa service operations to normal levels. However, this process will take time and will depend on each Embassy’s ability to open more appointments for visa applicants.
According to the Department of State, priority for visa services is first being given to U.S. Citizens abroad at all Consular sections. Secondarily, appointments are being prioritized for immigrant and fiancé visa applicants, particularly those filed for immediate relatives, and other family-sponsored applicants, who have been documentarily qualified by the National Visa Center. Consistent with the phased resumption of visa services, each consular section will determine its capacity to schedule visa interview appointments for these individuals.
Furthermore, the order of appointment availability will be made based on the order in which the NVC issued a documentary qualification notice to each applicant.
Who else is receiving priority for visa services?
U.S. Embassies and Consulates are also prioritizing the processing of immigrant visa cases that were previously refused under the rescinded Presidential Proclamations 9645 and 9983.
The Department of State has stated that it will be providing periodic updates regarding the status of worldwide visa operations and information regarding the backlog in immigrant visa processing.
Priority for nonimmigrant visa interviews is also being given to travelers that have urgent needs, foreign diplomats, mission-critical categories of travelers (such as those coming to assist with the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and workers who are essential to the American food supply), followed by students, exchange visitors, and some temporary employment visas.
What can applicants do while they wait for a visa appointment?
Immediate relatives and fiancés of U.S. Citizens who qualify for either the National Interest Exception (NIE) or an expedited visa interview based on extreme financial hardship, should apply as soon as possible to avoid these backlogs.
Find out more about the NIE criteria here.
In addition, applicants should be monitoring the website of their nearest Embassy or Consulate for the latest operating status.
Information about nonimmigrant visa wait times are available on the visa wait time tool here.
DOS Frequently Asked Questions
The Department of State has also posted the following FAQ on its website.
Q: Which additional visa services are embassies/consulates beginning to provide?
- A: All of our missions are continuing to provide emergency and mission-critical visa services. As post-specific conditions permit, and after meeting demand for services to U.S. citizens, our missions are phasing in processing some routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa cases. Posts that process immigrant visa applications are prioritizing Immediate Relative family members of U.S. citizens, including intercountry adoptions, fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens, and certain Special Immigrant Visa applications. Posts processing nonimmigrant visa applications will continue to prioritize travelers with urgent travel needs, foreign diplomats, and certain mission critical categories of travelers such as those coming to assist with the U.S. response to the pandemic, followed by students and exchange visitors (F-1, M-1, and J-1) and temporary employment visas. Posts that process both immigrant and nonimmigrant visas will prioritize immigrant visas while still providing some nonimmigrant services. The volume and type of visa cases each post will process depends on local circumstances. An embassy or consulate will resume adjudicating all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa cases only when adequate resources are available, and it is safe to do so.
Q: What criteria are missions using to determine when to resume routine services?
- A: We are closely monitoring local conditions in each country where we have a U.S. presence. Local conditions that may affect when we can begin providing various public services include medical infrastructure, COVID-19 cases, emergency response capabilities, and host/local government restrictions.
Q: What steps are being taken to protect customers from the spread of COVID-19?
- A: The health and safety of our workforce and customers remains paramount. Our embassies and consulates are implementing safeguards to keep staff and customers safe, including implementing physical distancing in our waiting rooms, scheduling fewer interviews at a time, frequent disinfection of high touch areas, and following local health and safety regulations.
Q: Do the various Presidential Proclamations/travel restrictions still apply, or are those lifting with the resumption of visa services?
- A: The three geographical COVID-19 Proclamations (P.P. 9984, 9992, and 10143) remain in effect. These proclamations, with certain exceptions, place restrictions on visa issuance and entry into to the United States for individuals physically present in China, Iran, Brazil, UK, Ireland, South Africa, and the 26 countries in the Schengen area.
Q: Is my situation an emergency? I need to go the United States immediately for X.
- A: Applicants can find instructions on how to request an emergency visa appointment at the Embassy or Consulate’s website.
Q: What about my application fee that expired while routine services were suspended?
- A: The Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fee is valid within one year of the date of payment and may be used to schedule a visa appointment in the country where it was purchased. However, the Department understands, as a result of the pandemic, many visa applicants have paid the visa application processing fee and are still waiting to schedule a visa appointment. We are working diligently to restore all routine visa operations as quickly and safely as possible. In the meantime, the Department extended the validity of MRV fees until September 30, 2022, to allow all applicants who were unable to schedule a visa appointment due to the suspension of routine consular operations an opportunity to schedule and/or attend a visa appointment with the fee they already paid.
For even more information about the resumption of visa services at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad please click here.
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