@StateDept to Continue Processing H-2 Visas, Program “Essential to the economy and food security of the United States”

 

On March 26, the State Department released a statement  regarding its intention to continue processing nonimmigrant, temporary visas under the H-2 visa program “as much as possible” and as “permitted by post resources and local government restrictions” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The statement notes that the H-2 program “is essential to the economy and food security of the United States.” The H-2 category allows temporary agricultural (H-2A) and non-agricultural (H-2B) visas for U.S. employers or U.S. agents who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign workers to the United States.  In FY2019, the State Department issued 204,801 H-2A visas for temporary workers performing agricultural services.
Via state.gov:

In response to significant worldwide challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State temporarily suspended routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates as of March 20, 2020. As resources allow, embassies and consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services. 

The H-2 program is essential to the economy and food security of the United States and is a national security priority. Therefore, we intend to continue processing H-2 cases as much as possible, as permitted by post resources and local government restrictions. Secretary Pompeo, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, has authorized consular officers to expand the categories of H-2 visa applicants whose applications can be adjudicated without an in-person interview.  Consular officers can, if they so choose, now waive the visa interview requirement for first-time and returning H-2 applicants who have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility. This expansion also increases the period in which returning workers may qualify for an interview waiver. Applicants whose previous visas expired in the last 48 months, and who did not require a waiver of ineligibility the last time they applied, do not need to be interviewed in-person if they are applying for the same visa classification as their previous visa.  We anticipate the vast majority of otherwise qualified H-2 applicants will now be adjudicated without an interview. 

Consular resources and local government restrictions vary widely, and each consular section is continuously reviewing its capacity to adjudicate visa applications during this worldwide pandemic. We encourage applicants to consult with the relevant U.S. embassy or consulate in order to confirm the level of services currently offered. Our overseas missions will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time.

Original statement posted here.

 

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Snapshot: @StateDept’s COVID-19 Repatriation Statistics as of 3/27/20 – 15,441 U.S. Citizens; 40 Countries

 

Via state.gov:

  • The U.S. Department of State has coordinated the repatriation of 15,441 U.S. citizens from more than 40 countries.
    • On March 26, a charter flight repatriated 223 U.S. Citizens from Jordan.
    • Over the past few days, 1,259 U.S. Citizens were repatriated from Peru.
    • On March 26, 129 U.S. Citizens were repatriated from Guayaquil; a total of 723 U.S. Citizens repatriated from Ecuador to date.
  • The Department has negotiated and continues to negotiate with more than 33 governments to permit commercial or U.S.-organized repatriation flights.
  • In order to communicate vital and timely health information to Americans abroad, the Department of State’s call center has fielded more than 11,000 calls since March 21.

Second columns indicates the number of citizen repatriated, and the third column is the number of flights to-date. Click here to see complete lis.

Click image to see full list of pax and countries

US Embassy Lima Works on Repatriating Thousands of Americans #StuckInPeru

Updated: March 28, 9:45 am PDT

A Health Alert from US Embassy Lima in Peru notes that post is continuing its operations and is “coordinating with the Peruvian Government to arrange repatriation flights over the next few days for U.S. citizens to return to the United States.”
Post’s Alert issued on Tuesday said that “As of March 24, approximately 700 Americans have departed Peru on repatriation flights. It also announced the departure from post of Ambassador Urs, and the travel to Peru of Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung  “to support our aggressive repatriation efforts.”

“For medical reasons, Ambassador Krishna Urs departed Peru on March 20.  He continues to engage from Washington with senior Peruvian officials as well as to support the Department’s efforts on behalf of the United States.”

As of 5:00PM on March 25, post said it has  repatriated over 1000 Americans from Peru.
In video below released by Embassy Lima, the Chargé d’Affaires Denison K. Offutt says that there are currently over 5,000 Americans in Peru. We don’t know if all of them are asking to return to the United States, but if so, this would be one of the largest evacuations of U.S. citizens from overseas at this time. This is not as huge as the nearly 15,000 evacuation from Lebanon in 2006 but the  logistics of moving a large number of people to the United States with border closures and limited air traffic during a pandemic will be extraordinarily challenging.
According to Embassy Lima, the Peruvian government declared a national state of emergency on March 15, 2020, at 8:00 PM Peru local time.  Under the state of emergency, Peru enacted 15 days of mandatory quarantine, starting at 00:00 on March 16, 2020.  At 23:59 PM on March 16, 2020, the Peruvian Government closed all international borders (land, air, and maritime) and suspended all interprovincial travel within Peru (land, air, and river).
Update from post indicates unusual difficulties with host country in obtaining permission for these repatriation flights . First, the Government of Peru told Ambassador Urs on March 23 that it had authorized repatriation flights, only for the contracted airline to notify the embassy at night that the flights are not approved. The following day, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed to US Embassy Lima that no U.S. flights had been approved. Ambassador Urs then spoke to the Peruvian Foreign Minister at 6:45 a.m., during which time, he was reportedly assured that the permissions would be granted in time. The Peruvian government ultimately declined to provide the proper clearances for a LATAM flight to pick up Americans stranded in Cusco.  A charter flight operated by American Airlines departed Miami with a scheduled arrival at 12:30 p.m.  Embassy Lima said that the Peruvian government also declined to approve permits for the charter flight, so the pilot returned the airplane to Miami.
Something’s going on there, hey?
During the March 25 Special Briefing, CA PDAS Ian Brownlee called the logjam “a capacity issue on the part of the Peruvian Government” and that the “information didn’t efficiently trickle down to the people in the regulatory agencies that had to issue the permits, the landing permits for the planes.”
Embassy Lima’s update on March 25 said  that there were two flights scheduled today, but these are “booked with humanitarian priority individuals, including older adults, people with underlying health conditions, minors traveling without a parent or legal guardian, and other adults in need of medical assistance.” Also that “the U.S. Embassy is scheduling additional flights for this week pending Peruvian government authorization.” As of March 25, Embassy Lima was able to get its first flight from Cusco to Miami (via Lima) and is reportedly scheduling a flight from Iquitos to Miami. So that’s good news.
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne confirmed that Canada received the go-ahead for 3 Air Canada flights to bring stranded Canadians home from Peru this week.
On March 21, Politico reported that a U.S. official familiar with the situation said the Peruvian government is not allowing Americans stuck in Peru to leave until the White House ensures thousands of Peruvians are given safe passage home.[…] “The government of Peru is basically holding these Americans hostage,” the U.S. official said. “They want the U.S. to fill planes with Peruvians before they’ll let the planes land to pick up Americans. But they’re not ready or organized in the United States to gather their people up, and they don’t want to pay for the flight.“
Could Peru wait this out or slow this down as Americans stuck in Peru fumes louder, and clogs congressional offices with complaints? Already Senator Rubio (R-Texas FL) has publicly scolded the State Department for Americans stuck in Peru “due to lack or (sic) urgency by some in mid-level of .”
Except that Peru apparently wants something from the White House not the State Department.
March 25 DOS Special Briefing with CA PDAS Ian Brownlee called the logjam in Peru a “capacity issue:”

The logjam there was a capacity issue on the part of the Peruvian Government. To reduce this to simplicity, we had commitment from the senior-most levels of the government – from the foreign minister, et cetera, the ministerial level – that yes, the flight yesterday Monday would be able to go forward – flights yesterday Monday would be able to go forward. That information didn’t efficiently trickle down to the people in the regulatory agencies that had to issue the permits, the landing permits for the planes, and so the American Airlines flight that was going into Lima literally turned around as it was preparing to enter Peruvian airspace because it didn’t have the permit necessary.

The difficulty arises there from the fact that there was some infections in the civil aviation authority and in the civilian side of the airport, and they just shut down that entire entity and they’re trying to run it on a bit of a shoestring from the military side of the airport. We’re helping them address this shortfall by – we’ve taken the INL, the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement hangar on the military side of the airport, taken everything out of it. We’re arranging chairs in there at socially distant appropriate spacing and we’re preparing to use that as a working space, a processing space to move people through. We’re also preparing to send down a flyaway team of consular officers and we have a senior officer from the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs going down to assist as well. So we’re doing what we can to help the Peruvians fill that sort of capacity gap, and we hope – we hope – that this will keep things moving more fluidly in the future. Out.

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Related post:
US Embassy Lima: Avianca Airlines May Have Outbound Flights For #StuckinPeru Americans

Did US Embassy Bangui Go on “Ordered Departure” Without Telling Anyone? (Updated)

Updated 3/28/2020, 8:20 pm PDT | US Embassy Bangui’s Health Alert dated March 26, 2020 says “On March 18, the Department of State ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. personnel in Bangui.”
We learned last week that the US Embassy in Bangui, Central African Republic “just went on ordered departure.” Apparently this was less about Covid19 and more about a flare-up of violence in the country. To-date, neither the State Department nor the US Embassy has made an announcement about this post’s evacuation status.
On March 20, US Embassy Bangui released the following statement about reduced staffing:

The U.S. Embassy in Bangui announces that it is reducing its staffing in response to increasing travel restrictions, limited health infrastructure and potential disruption of supply chains for essential goods in the Central African Republic.

We call your attention to the State Department’s Global Travel Advisory issued March 19, 2020

The State Department has issued a global travel advisory advising all U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19.  In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.  U.S. citizens who live abroad should avoid all international travel.  Many countries are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closing borders, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry with little advance notice.  Airlines have cancelled many international flights and several cruise operators have suspended operations or cancelled trips.  If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite timeframe.

U.S. Embassy in Bangui does not provide visa or citizen services  to U.S. citizens in CAR.  U.S. citizens in need of assistance there are advised to contact the U.S. Embassy in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
Note that the Central African Republic is on a Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory “due to crime, civil unrest, and kidnapping” as of December 12, 2019. The Travel Advisory has not been updated to indicate its evacuation status as of this writing.
A source at a neighboring post is similarly perplexed as they know from colleagues in Bangui that the embassy has gone on ordered departure despite the lack of public announcement.  We were asked if it is possible to have an internal ordered departure and Foggy Bottom knows it but it’s not ‘official’?
These days anything is possible, it seems, but we don’t know how that works without running afoul of 7 FAM 050 No Double Standard Policy. “Generally, if the Department shares information with the official U.S. community, it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals.”
7 FAM 053(f) includes a reminder: “Remember that if post concludes it should warn, or has warned, its personnel or any U.S. Government employees beyond those with a strict need-to-know, whether permanently stationed or on temporary duty abroad, about a security threat, post should share that same information with the non-official U.S. community under the “No Double Standard” policy (see 7 FAM 052).

 

US Embassy Lima: Avianca Airlines May Have Outbound Flights For #StuckinPeru Americans

 

According to the US Embassy in Lima, Peru, on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, the Peruvian Ministry of Health (MINSA) has 145 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Peru, with 13 hospitalized.
For Americans stranded in Peru, the embassy provided a link to Avianca Airlines’ sign up page for travelers interested in departing Lima. It looks like there are flights for March 19 and 23, 2020 from Cusco to Lima, and Lima to Miami, as well as to other non-US destinations. Avianca’s sign-up page says that the airline is trying to program new flights based on the request of embassies with nationals in the country. Travelers are asked to complete a short form to  confirm their interest in purchasing a flight.  “In case there are enough passengers confirming interest in flying, we will notify you so that you can purchase it through the different Avianca channels. In case the flight does not operate, we will also contact you” (rough translation).
As of March 19, one social media account tracking the number of those stranded in country estimates there are over 1,660 U.S. citizens in the country from 48 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Below via US Embassy Lima:

Avianca Airlines notified the U.S. Embassy it has created an online signup page here for travelers to express interest in flights departing from Lima and Cusco to destinations including the United States.  If you are interested in this offer, please respond immediately through the link.  You are encouraged to keep contacting your airline for reservation and flight updates.  To contact major airlines with flights from Peru to the United States, below are their customer service telephone numbers:

  • The Peruvian government declared a national state of emergency on March 15, 2020, at 8:00 PM Peru local time.  Under the state of emergency, Peru enacted 15 days of mandatory quarantine, starting at 00:00 on March 16, 2020.  At 23:59 PM on March 16, 2020, the Peruvian Government closed all international borders (land, air, and maritime) and suspended all interprovincial travel within Peru (land, air, and river).  American Citizens who remain in Peru should arrange lodging for the duration of the quarantine period and plan to limit their movements.  Limited quarantine exemptions include movement to obtain food and medical care.  Travelers currently in country should consult iPeru for the latest guidance for tourists.  The Embassy will provide a daily update on this page as this situation develops.
  • As of March 17, Jorge Chávez International Airport in Lima is closed to the public.  Please contact your airline carrier for updates on flight information.
  • The Peruvian government issued a decree on March 14 suspending the docking of all cruise ships in Peruvian ports for 30 days.
  • American Airlines announced via its website on March 14 that it will suspend service from Dallas/Fort Worth and Miami to Lima, Peru effective end of day March 16, after flying all legs scheduled through the end of that day.  This suspension will last through May 6.
  • On March 13 the Peruvian government issued a decree to suspend all flights to and from Europe and Asia, beginning on March 16, for 30 days.
  • On March 12 President Martín Vizcarra announced the suspension of classes at university and vocational educational institutions, following his March 11 announcement suspending primary and secondary school classes through March 30.

 

US Embassy Morocco: Chartered Flights Available For Stranded Americans on March 20

 

@USEmbassySeoul Finally Suspends Routine Visa Services

 

Related to our post of March 16, specific to South Korea:
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).
(Read more: If your routine visa services are still open during this pandemic, please tell us why)
It looks like the US Embassy in Seoul has now suspended its routine visa appointments effective March 19 (first outbreak of COVID19 in Seoul was reported in late January). On March 18, the State Department announced the suspension of routine visa services in Level 2-4 countries. There are some 108 countries currently on Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions Travel Advisory. There are also Level 1 countries like U.S. Embassy Tashkent in Uzbekistan where posts have suspended their routine visa services; there are COVID19 cases in country and quarantine is in effect).
Below is an excerpt from US Embassy Seoul’s announcement:
“In response to worldwide challenges related to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Department of State is suspending routine visa services in all countries with a level 2, 3, or 4 U.S. Department of State travel advisory.  Accordingly, the U.S. Embassy to the Republic of Korea will cancel all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments as of March 19, 2020.  This does not affect the visa waiver program.  Services to U.S. citizens will continue.”
 Link to full statement below.

 

If your routine visa services are still open during this pandemic, please tell us why (Updated)

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

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@StateDept Issues “Global Level 3 Health Advisory – Reconsider Travel” Over COVID-19

 

On March 11, 2020, the State Department issued a “Global Level 3 Health Advisory – Reconsider Travel.”

The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to reconsider travel abroad due to the global impact of COVID-19.  Many areas throughout the world are now experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and taking action that may limit traveler mobility, including quarantines and border restrictions.  Even countries, jurisdictions, or areas where cases have not been reported may restrict travel without notice.     

For the latest information regarding COVID-19, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website.

You are encouraged to visit travel.state.gov to view individual Travel Advisories for the most urgent threats to safety and security.  Please also visit the website of the relevant U.S. embassy or consulate to see information on entry restrictions, foreign quarantine policies, and urgent health information provided by local governments.

Travelers are urged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.  The Department uses these Alerts to convey information about terrorist threats, security incidents, planned demonstrations, natural disasters, etc.  In an emergency, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate or call the following numbers: 1(888) 407-4747 (toll-free in the United States and Canada) or 1 (202) 501-4444 from other countries or jurisdictions.

If you decide to travel abroad:

It looks like the State Department is also working to adapt its website to the ongoing outbreak. On travel.state.gov‘s travel advisories page, a new tab for COVID-19 Country Specific Information has been added which links directly to various embassies’ COVID-19 webpage, as well as a tab for Visa Alerts – Banner (currently unpopulated with information).
We are still looking for improvements on the “health alert” advisories. There is no easy way to search for them on travel.state.gov. Some of the health advisories like those for Israel is not included in the Travel Advisory. The embassies COVID-19 page also do not include links to the post issued “health alerts.” US Embassy Jamaica’s COVID-19 page has been overtaken by events and there is no clear link to the recent “health alert.”

US Embassy Jamaica Employee Reportedly Tested Positive of COVID-19, Routine Consular Services Suspended

 

Local media in Jamaica reports that the second COVID-19 case in the island is a U.S. Embassy Jamaica employee who recently returned from the UK.  Jamaican Minister of Health and Wellness Dr. Chris Tufton tweeted confirmation of the second case on March 11.
The US Embassy released a statement acknowledging the media reports but cites “privacy concerns” in declining to share additional information. It has, however, announced the suspension of routine consular services until further notice and that the “Embassy is in the process of sanitizing the premises to prevent further outbreak.”

Kingston, Jamaica – We are aware of reports of a COVID-19 case related to an Embassy Kingston employee.  Due to privacy concerns, we are not able to share additional information.

The U.S. Department of State has no greater responsibility than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas and locally-employed staff.

In coordination with Jamaican authorities, Embassy Kingston is implementing all appropriate measures to help control the spread of COVID-19.

The Embassy is in the process of sanitizing the premises to prevent further outbreak.

Our Consular Section will not be providing routine services – including visa processing and American citizens services – until further notice.  U.S. citizens who require emergency assistance should call 876-702-6000.

U.S. citizens who decide to travel to Jamaica  should review and follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for the prevention of coronavirus, read the Travel Advisory and Country Information Page for Jamaica on travel.state.gov, and enroll their travel plans in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP.state.gov).

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