Everything You Need to Know About U.S. Embassies & Consulates Resuming Routine Visa Services
Due to COVID-19, the Department of State suspended routine visa services worldwide beginning in March 2020. Since that time, U.S. Embassies and Consulates have been mostly closed and only open by appointment to administer emergency and mission-critical visa services.
However, beginning in mid-July, several posts (embassies and consulates) have begun resuming routine and other visa services on a country-by-country and post-by-post basis. The reopening status of each post is subject to change based on the local conditions, including COVID-19 cases, restrictions on leaving home, medical infrastructure, and emergency response capabilities.
As mentioned, consular posts have been offering emergency and mission-critical visa services since March and will continue to do so. Regardless of the status of a particular post, any applicants that have an urgent matter and need to travel immediately should consult the guidelines posted on the website of their nearest post to determine how to petition for an appointment.
This also does not impact travel under the Visa Waiver Program. This program allows individuals from select countries that meet certain requirements to travel without a visa for personal or business reasons if they are staying for less than 90 days. You can learn more information about the VWP here.
Despite posts reopening, they are still subject to visa restrictions that remain in effect under the recent President Proclamations regarding immigration in response to COVID-19. Naturally, there are exceptions to many of these restrictions, specifically if the travel is of national interest.
A National Interest Exemption (NIE) may be granted if an applicant can demonstrate that their entry to the United States will be of significant benefit. However, meeting this standard during current times is difficult. It appears these exemptions are only being granted to individuals for dire humanitarian contributions to the U.S. These contributions include providing healthcare services or research related to COVID-19 efforts. If your exemption falls outside of this area, it would be best to consult with an immigration attorney.
Although a full list of dates for specific services at each location is currently unavailable, each post has its own website and more information can be found there. The following links provide more information on a sample of countries that have begun reopening. To find specific information on any other country or a specific post, please visit: www.usembassy.gov
- France – https://fr.usembassy.gov/visas/
- Hong Kong & Macau – https://hk.usconsulate.gov/visas/
- United Kingdom – https://uk.usembassy.gov/
The pandemic has influenced immigration as much as it has influenced the overall economy. It can be overwhelming and confusing to keep track of which visa types are impacted, how they are impacted, what viable exceptions exist, and the status of the local U.S. embassy or consulate. Further, these matters are developing and changing rapidly and often. Although it is always advisable to consult with an immigration attorney when applying for an immigration or non-immigration visa, it is even more imperative now. Consulting an experienced immigration lawyer will help ensure you are applying for a visa under the most advantageous option for your specific circumstances and current country of residence.