Visa Processing Resumes in Phases

The U.S. State Department announced that visa processing at U.S. consulates and embassies abroad can begin as early as July 15, 2020. Since the March 20, 2020 suspension of operations and cancellation of visa interviews at most consular posts, there has been little guidance. As local country conditions permit, visa operations will resume but be subject to change at a moment’s notice. Rather than offer a centralized resource for various locations around the world, the State Department instead recommends checking the consulate’s or embassy’s website to determine when it may reopen.

Although this is tentative good news, the President’s executive orders from April and June put a hold on immigrant visas (green cards) and several work visas, notably H-1B specialty occupation and L-1 intracompany transfer visas, through December 31, 2020. There are some exceptions for immigrant visas, such as spouses of U.S. citizens. For H-1B or L-1 visas, the exceptions include spouses or children of U.S. citizens, persons who will “provide temporary labor or services essential to the U.S. food supply chain,” and persons whose services “would be in the national interest.”

The exceptions for spouses or children of U.S. citizens are straightforward. The food supply chain and national interest exceptions for H-1B and L-1 visas so far have been somewhat of a mystery based upon anecdotal reports. Some consular posts have taken initiative and approved visas. Other posts either have refused visas outright or claimed to be awaiting guidance from the Departments of State and Homeland Security.

Change and uncertainty will continue to be the order of the day. A visa office may open up interview scheduling one month only to cancel interviews the following month. Checking the particular post at https://www.usembassy.gov/ will be important to determine when visa processing will resume and whether an interview will occur as scheduled.