What is Happening at the U.S. Embassies/Consulates Abroad?
Many of the RIS Attorneys attended the American Immigration Lawyers Association, or AILA, Conference last month. This provided the opportunity to hear directly from the Department of State and other attorneys practicing in the field on what is happening at the U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad.
All U.S. Embassies and Consulates outside the United States closed to routine visa interviews in June 2020 due to COVID-19. They have slowly begun to re-open on a post-by-post basis; determined by the conditions of the countries where they are located. At this time, no U.S. Embassies or Consulates are fully operational. Even if they are scheduling appointments and conducting interviews, they are dealing with long backlogs and reduced staff. In order to try to address these backlogs, there have been priorities set.
First, the U.S. Embassy or Consulate will prioritize issues for U.S. Citizens and those within their geographical area. That means that even if a country is accepting Third-Country National applications at this time; they are not the priority. In addition, Immigrant Visas, those applying for permanent residence are prioritized in the following way:
- Tier One: Immediate relative intercountry adoption visas, age-out cases (cases where the applicant will soon no longer qualify due to their age), and certain Special Immigrant Visas (SQ and SI for Afghan and Iraqi nationals working with the U.S. government)
- Tier Two: Immediate relative visas; fiancé(e) visas; and returning resident visas
- Tier Three: Family preference immigrant visas and SE Special Immigrant Visas for certain employees of the U.S. government abroad
- Tier Four: All other immigrant visas, including employment preference and diversity visas *This is the tier for religious workers’ permanent residence applications.
The Nonimmigrant, or temporary status, visas, such as B1/B2 Visitor, F-1 Student and R-1 Religious Worker, are also seeing backlogs and reduced staffing issues. The U.S. Embassies and Consulates that process nonimmigrant visa applications are prioritizing travelers with 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. Many applicants trying to make appointments have seen appointment times months away. Please note that they may qualify for an expedited appointment depending on their situation and the consulate where they are applying. Please contact your RIS Attorney for your options.
It is important to remember there are still travel restrictions for those in China, Iran, the European Schengen area, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Brazil, South Africa and India. For those applying for visas in those countries, it may be more difficult to obtain a visa until the restrictions are lifted. There are many questions about religious workers obtaining a visa under the National Interest Exemption. At this time, religious workers have generally not qualified for this benefit. In addition, if an applicant is in one of the countries above, they cannot travel directly to the United States. They will have to be in a non-restricted country for 14 days before being able to come to the United States. Please note this includes layovers for airplane travel. If there is travel that has a layover in one of the above countries, the foreign national will not be able to fly to the United States. They will have to travel to a non-restricted country for 14 days before they will be able to fly to the United States.
At this time RIS Attorneys are still discouraging international travel for the reasons above. If your religious worker needs to travel, please contact your RIS attorney ahead of time to discuss the best plan for travel.