Update: March 16, 4:58 PDT US Embassy Seoul, South Korea still doing routine visa services (see below)
From a March 14 message from State/M Brian Bulatao:
“We may never have experienced a situation exactly like this before, but the Department has plenty of experience dealing with emergencies. We know that we have to make good decisions for ourselves, for our families, for our colleagues, and are actively taking into account the needs and challenges of individual team members who may be at a higher risk if they contract COVID-19.
This means, if you are sick, please stay home. If a member of your household is sick, please stay home. If you think you may have been exposed, it is best to stay home – you do not have to take annual leave if you are set up to telework. Reducing contact with other people is our best defense against the spread of the virus.”
If your routine visa services are still open during this pandemic, we’d like to know why.
If your post is able to do social distancing for visa applicants while continuing full services, we’d like to know how.
At the US Embassy in Israel, a COVID19-positive individual visited the Embassy Branch Office Non-Immigrant Visa Section waiting room in Tel Aviv on March 5, the Embassy announced that it directed its affected staff to quarantine on March 12.
US Embassy Seoul: We’re told that despite being a Level 3 COVID-19 country with very active community spread for the past few weeks, has continued to do routine NIV visa services and is still doing routine NIV visa services. “Those from epicenter areas are able to walk in like anyone else. No temp checks or additional screenings! Guards are not allowed to turn visibly sick people away. Visa appointments are only down because people aren’t traveling as much. However you can still get an appointment easily for (F, M, J, B) This is also a visa waiver country.” (Note: South Korea is a CDC Level 3 country, and a State Department Level 3: Reconsider Travel country as of this writing).
Updated: 5:30 PDT, March 18, 2020
— Diplopundit STAY HOME Pls (@Diplopundit) March 18, 2020
At one post, we’re told that the Consular Section is “moving teams” but apparently unable to make the guards/greeters require the public to separate themselves in lines.
So that’s problematic.
Not all posts are located inside well-protected compounds. We have smaller posts sharing offices with banks, and other offices, with shared public entries, or stairs, or elevators.
That’s also problematic.
Consular Sections, particularly the visa processing sections typically have large numbers of people lining up, going in, waiting for interviews, going out, only to repeat the same process the next day. With few exceptions, the waiting areas are typically temperature controlled rooms, and usually packed with visa applicants throughout the day. Are they arranging chairs at 6-plus feet intervals in waiting areas to accommodate the requirement for social distancing?
We understand that there are some guidance available. One overseas consular guidance reportedly more or less said “if you have a visa applicant demonstrating the COVID-19 symptoms, you should refuse the case 221(g) and have them come back when they feel better.” Oh, good grief! That freaked out one of our sources.
Routine and emergency American Citizen Services (ACS) remain available. With some exceptions, the ACS windows are in separate rooms, or usually have less traffic than visa sections. Spare some thoughts for our consular officers and local employees working at ACS units overseas; this is going to be a most challenging time for them as they continue to support our citizens overseas during this pandemic.
We’re told that visa closures right now are post-driven. If Consular Affairs has issued guidance on consular operation during a pandemic, we’d like to know.
If your post is still conducting business as usual, we’d like to know.
How are people screened for COVID-19 as they come into the visa sections?
How are the employees with the most contact with host country population (contract or local employees) protected?
Do visa screeners have the ability to turn away any applicant with COVID-19 symptoms?
If not, who has the responsibility to do this at post?
What is your plan for infected applicants that show no symptoms? The CDC said while the COVID-19 spread is mainly from person-to-person (between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet)), it also said that some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this occurring with this new coronavirus.
The “Dear Colleagues” guidance issued by State/M today does not mention Consular Affairs, the most public operation that he oversees.
Below are some posts that announced limitation of routine visa appointments yesterday.
[1 of 3]: As of March 16, 2020, the United States Embassy in Nassau is canceling routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments. We will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time. pic.twitter.com/aSzJQmvUdT
— U.S. Embassy Nassau (@USEmbassyNassau) March 16, 2020
The U.S. Mission in South Africa, in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic, is cancelling most nonimmigrant visa appointments from March 16, 2020 until May 29, 2020. More here: https://t.co/F2QIuvEc88
— US Embassy SA (@USEmbassySA) March 15, 2020
The Embassy is canceling all non-emergency nonimmigrant visa appointments from March 17-31. Canceled applicants will receive an email today with more information. pic.twitter.com/aU9FYGr049
— US Embassy Bogota (@USEmbassyBogota) March 15, 2020
Visa Appointments Canceled Until Further Notice: Effective March 16, the Embassy is canceling routine in-person immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments. Interview waiver cases, which do not require physical presence, will still be processed. https://t.co/HUjV30ea7S pic.twitter.com/b2af15sNW6
— U.S. Embassy POS (@USinTT) March 15, 2020