Immigration to USA

COVID-19 Effects on Travel

The impact of the travel restrictions caused by the Corona Virus pandemic on Consular Processing and Extension of Status

The global Corona Virus pandemic is affecting the socio-economic fabric of Western democracies. After the epicenter first moved from China to Europe, and then from Europe to the United States, the virus continues its inexorable march while we all await a possible containment. Countries around the world have issued travel bans in and out of their borders. Including the United States Government, which partially closing its borders to Mexico and Canada. But what are the immediate effects of the restrictions on those who have already started a Consular Visa Process, or are in the  United States with an expiring Visa?

Picture of countries border closures

Closure of U.S. Embassies or Consulates abroad

 The first and inevitable problem is the closure of American Consulates and Embassies abroad for public safety reasons. All appointments and interviews for Visas have been suspended and postponed until a later date. The consular authorities instruct everyone whose appointment has been canceled not to book a new appointment, but to wait for direct communication from the consular authority itself. Such a wait can adversely affect those applying for Nonimmigrant and Immigrant Visa Processing at Consular Posts. Indeed, prolonged delay for the issuance of Visa can result in a serious loss in terms of Investment, not allowing the individuals to return to the United States and manage their business. In such circumstances, we recommend to return to the United States as soon as possible and to seek legal counsel.

Risk of overstaying your B-1/B-2 Visa Status

Another major issue caused by the travel restrictions is the risk of overstaying (equals remaining illegally in the United States). Indeed, many individuals are now stranded in the United States with an expiring B-1/B-2 Visa. In this case, we recommend to seek legal counsel and to request, if available, an Extension of Stay by filing Form I-539 (and I-539A, if any dependants) with USCIS, before the authorized status expires. This may be a suitable option, especially in light of the U.S. Department of State’s Global Level 4 Health Advisory to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19. To this end, the USCIS provides for a procedure to request an extension of status in the event of a natural disaster and other extreme situations, including, in this case, the COVID-19 emergency.

ESTA Extension

Generally, to extend ESTA status may be complicated. However, during the COVID-19 outbreak, going back to the countries of origin may not be an option. Especially, those countries where the pandemic emergency has led the health systems to collapse, including Italy, Spain or France, among the others. In this case, we recommend seeking legal counsel and request a Satisfactory Departure with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”), to extend the ESTA status. Indeed, under 8 CFR 217.3(a), in case of a serious emergency, the District Director having jurisdiction may, in its discretion, grant a period not exceeding 30 days, and allowing the individual to avoid overstaying his status. Therefore, we hope that the authorities can exercise common sense during this international crisis, and  validating ESTA extension requests made to the CPB.

For more information, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Author: Giorgio Polacco, Attorney at Law
Co-Author; Carmen Arce, Attorney at Law

The information herein does not constitute legal advice.


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