How has the pandemic impacted immigration in the United States?
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost every part of the immigration system within the United States. Some examples include:
- Visas. The processing of visa applications by the Department of State was slowed significantly by the pandemic. On March 20, 2020 the Department of State suspended visa services at all embassies and consulates. This impacted many different sectors, including employment, family, student, and visitor visas. This ban was originally set to last 60 days but was extended through March 31, 2021. Consulates slowly began to reopen after July 2020, to assist as much as possible but operations are not yet up to full speed.
- Entry. United States officials have severely restricted the ability to enter the country through port entries and along the Mexican and Canadian borders. On March 20, 2020, the United States suspended all “non-essential” travel through the borders and also allowed for the prohibition of individuals who could pose a serious danger of introducing a “communicable disease” into the country.
- Detention. Tens of thousands of people remain within detention. This is particularly concerning as these detention centers to do not allow for proper social distancing or provide sufficient personal protective equipment like masks and hand sanitizer, making it difficult to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
The current administration has stated it will begin to address these issues.
Has there been any progress regarding immigration to the United States?
President Joe Biden recently stated that the freeze put on visas by the previous administration due to the pandemic did not advance the country’s interests and instead hurt our nation’s industries. On February 24, 2021, President Biden revoked the freeze. Within his revocation he uses strong language about vetting visa applications properly but that, as a nation, we need to keep our nation’s values intact — something he stated the freeze failed to do.
As a result of this revocation, hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were waiting to apply for a visa can now begin the process. It is important to note the current change does not remove all restrictions. The nonimmigrant visa ban that prevents certain H, L, or J status applications from obtaining visas without a national interest exception remains in place through March 31, 2021. There is also a ban that does not allow people to enter the United States if they were in certain countries within the last 14 days. These countries include China, the U.K. and Germany.
These laws are constantly evolving. The government made this fact clear when it made sweeping changes as a result of the pandemic. As such, those who are in the process of entering the United States are wise to seek counsel to better ensure they follow the process the government expects at that point in time. An attorney experienced in this niche area of law can review your options and help guide you through the process.