Snapshot: Visas Issued at Foreign Service Posts (FY 2016-2020)

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Via state.gov

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Post in Search of a Mission: “Now, I found, that the world is round and of course, it rains everyday ….”

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1) If there are fewer than two dozen staff members. 
2) If they live in austere conditions even without COVID, but particularly during COVID they are limited to their homes and the embassy. Nothing else. 
3) If there are no flights servicing pouch needs coming to post. This means the staff cannot procure needed items with regularity, including food and medicine. 
4) If there are no relationships with the host government. This means the embassy remains open simply to support itself. 
5) If staff is top heavy with multiple FS-01 positions and few FS-02 and below officers. 
6) If staff lives together due to health concerns. 
7)  If there are no option to telework even amidst COVID. Security requirements preclude remote access. 
8) If a staff member gets COVID, they will likely put the entire embassy at risk. Flight clearance to get an OPMED evacuation flight is difficult to obtain from host nation and would likely necessitate evacuating all who had been exposed (thus shuttering the embassy) because of the OPMED cost, and the delayed timeline of clearance to land and cost of repeated flights. 
9) If local staff continue to be paid even though most never come to work, and have been forced to stay home since COVID. 
10) If COVID vaccination efforts will be hamstrung by the aforementioned issues with host nation further putting staff at risk. 

 

Now, I found that the world is round
And of course it rains everyday

Living tomorrow, where in the world will I be tomorrow?
How far am I able to see?
Or am I needed here?

Now, I found that the world is round
And of course it rains everyday

If I remember all of the things I have done
I’d remember all of the times I’ve gone wrong
Why do they keep me here?

Courtesy: Bee Gees – World (From the 1968 Album, Horizontal)


 

 

US Consulate General Hong Kong Staffers and Kids in HK Quarantine Center

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Two employees at the USCG Hong Kong reportedly tested positive of COVID-19. According to local news the Hong Kong  Special Administrative Region Government has allowed the children of these staffers to join them in a quarantine center.  A separate report says that a three-year old daughter of consulate employees has also tested positive and the school had now been closed.  Mainland China news alleged that the US staffers claimed diplomatic immunity to avoid quarantine. The State Department called it “absolutely false.” The HK SAR says that the “US Consulate General in Hong Kong has been fully co-operative with the Government on all the above action items to combat COVID-19.”
Via SCMP Hong Kong:
Hong Kong leader Chief Executive  Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor confirmed that two infected US consulate employees, a married couple, had already been sent to the hospital on Monday night, while special permission had been granted to allow their children to join them instead of being sent into quarantine as per long-enforced rules. But she emphasised the exceptional treatment for the pair was made on compassionate grounds and based on their family circumstances, rather than their status as consulate workers.
” …. Lam said the government allowed for children to be admitted to hospital along with their parents and that the special dispensation had been granted to the consulate workers, who also had a daughter who tested preliminary-positive.
“We are a compassionate government … Instead of sending the very young kids on their own to the quarantine centre or asking other relatives and friends to go into a quarantine centre with these kids, we will exceptionally allow the admission of their children into the hospital as well,” she said. “We are applying the exceptional treatment, not exceptional because they are US consulate staff, but exceptional because of their family circumstances.”

[…]
Arrangements for families hit by Covid-19 were thrust into the spotlight this past week when a flare-up of cases enveloping part of the expatriate community on Hong Kong Island, affecting international school teachers, bankers and lawyers, forced many children into quarantine. They are among about 120 children and teens currently isolated at the government facilities.”

On March 15, the US Consulate General Hong Kong posted a statement on its website about being informed that two Consulate General employees have tested positive for COVID-19. The consulate will remain closed until March 22. It also released a Health Alert for American citizens:

On March 15, 2021 the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau was informed that two Consulate General employees tested positive for COVID-19. We have closed the Consulate General to perform a deep disinfection and cleaning while contact tracing is conducted. The Consulate employees that tested positive for COVID-19 do not work in offices that interact with the public. We are aware that many U.S. citizens in Hong Kong are concerned about local government testing, quarantine, and hospitalization procedures, particularly in regard to the possible separation of children from their parents. The U.S. Consulate General is actively addressing these concerns at the highest levels of the Hong Kong government to advocate for the U.S. citizen community. We urge U.S. citizens in Hong Kong to comply with all instructions from the Hong Kong Center for Health Protection.

At the March 15 DPB, the StateDepartment’s Deputy spokesperson was asked about this and she responded:

“Yes, so we’ve been informed that two consulate general employees have tested positive for COVID-19, but due to privacy concerns, we’re not able to share additional information. When it comes to disinformation about these two not complying to quarantine, that is absolutely false.”

The Hong Kong SAR Government also released a statement:

“… The cases have been admitted to the hospital for isolation, and all staff members and visitors who have been present at the relevant premises are required to undergo testing according to the relevant legislation. The two preliminary positive cases belong to the same family. Having learnt that the two patient are staff members of the US Consulate General in Hong Kong, the Government has immediately liaised with the Consulate General; the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) has also contacted the relevant persons, and arranged them to be admitted to the hospital for isolation and medical treatment according to the mechanism.
[…]
The US Consulate General in Hong Kong has been fully co-operative with the Government on all the above action items to combat COVID-19.”

HK SAR also issued “a compulsory testing notice pursuant to the Prevention and Control of Disease (Compulsory Testing for Certain Persons) Regulation (Cap. 599J), which requires any person who had been present at the US Consulate General in Hong Kong between March 2 and 15, 2021 to undergo a COVID-19 nucleic acid test.”
In related news, the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said that the international business community has undergone an unsettling weekend with children from several schools under threat of being sent to mandatory government quarantine facilities after mandatory testing due to COVID outbreaks. The Chamber conducted a quick poll to gauge its members’ views. A majority of those surveyed said they were worried or somewhat worried about entire school classes being sent to government quarantine facilities, and that the policy is unjustified when it comes to the health of children. Over half of those surveyed said that if this policy became routine it would factor into their decision about staying in Hong Kong.  AmCham suggested “more clarity and transparency of information around quarantine arrangements for minors be given to schools and parents while the government does its best to control the pandemic” See more here.
Meanwhile, on March 16, the State Department named 24 PRC and Hong Kong officials who have materially contributed to the PRC’s failure to meet its obligations under the Sino – British Joint Declaration (see Update to Report on Identification of Foreign Persons Involved in the Erosion of the Obligations of China Under the Joint Declaration or the Basic Law). This was an update to the October 14 report, consistent with section 5(e) of the HKAA and includes financial sanctions and visa restrictions.
On March 17, the State Department also released a statement on the Hong Kong Autonomy Act Update):

“Today’s update identifies 24 PRC and Hong Kong officials whose actions have reduced Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, including 14 vice chairs of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee and officials in the Hong Kong Police Force’s National Security Division, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, and the Office for Safeguarding National Security.  Foreign financial institutions that knowingly conduct significant transactions with the individuals listed in today’s report are now subject to sanctions.”

We’ve reached out to the State Department on the quarantine of USG employees. We’re hoping to have a follow-report.

 

@StateDept’s Vaccination Efforts For Overseas Posts Under Fire, a Test for @SecBlinken

 

Hey, did you see that  DOD is shipping Moderna COVID-19 vaccines overseas for military families?
This is the pandemic of our lifetime. Half a million Americans are dead and many more will die before this is over. DOD has a larger global footprint than the State Department. It has an expansive regional presence around the world.  Why isn’t State working with DOD and HHS to get all overseas USG personnel and family members vaccinated?

Dear Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin, HHS Acting Secretary Cochran, can you please get this done?

Can we please have Secretary Blinken talked to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and HHS Acting Secretary Norris Cochran so we can get this done? If there’s a will, there’s a way. Simple as that. We sent these employees and their family members overseas to do work for the U.S. Government. The least we can do is to ensure that they get vaccinated as they continue to do their work on our country’s behalf. Why is that hard?
Do we really want our diplomats to deliver their démarches to their host countries in the morning and then have them beg for vaccines for themselves and their families in the afternoon?
C’mon!
We understand that the State Department’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts at overseas posts have come under fire. Yes, we’ve heard about the SBU Kosovo cable, and no, we have not seen it. One FSO told us it was a “blistering critique”, another FSO who read it told us it was “whiny”.  It looks like the cable got leaked fairly quickly to NBC News and New York Times. Politico’s Nahal Toosi previously had a thread on Twitter about it. Have you read the cable? What do you think?
News of the Kosovo cable is in addition to the recent reporting from WaPo’s John Hudson – Vaccine shortage prompts U.S. diplomats to request doses from foreign governments, including Russia. That’s the piece that includes an item about “State Department personnel appealed to Moscow for doses of its Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine after Washington could not promise the delivery of U.S.-made vaccine doses in the near future.” Oy! Who did that? A vaccine with no FDA approval? That report also says that in China some U.S. personnel have complained about being subjected to anal swab tests for the coronavirus by Chinese authorities. Double oy! More from WaPo:
The invasive technique has been heralded by Chinese doctors as more effective than a nasal swab despite the unpleasant nature of the procedure. In response to questions about the anal swab testing of U.S. officials, a State Department spokesman said the department was “evaluating all reasonable options” to address the issue with the aim of preserving the “dignity” of U.S. officials “consistent with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.”
In a report about anal swabs,  Omai Garner, PhD, an associate clinical professor, clinical microbiology section chief, and point of care testing director in the Department of Pathology and Lab Medicine at UCLA Health said that “it became very apparent, like most other respiratory viruses, the most accurate place to find it is in the upper respiratory tract, so this is why I was a little bit surprised and confused by the reports coming out on large scale anal swab testing.”
What now?
Back in January, two diplomats tested positive of COVID-19 upon arrival in Guangzhou, China. The other passengers from the same flight, some 86 State Department folks apparently were all considered close contacts and placed in “centralized quarantine” for 21 days. The Chinese Government also informed Consulate General Guangzhou that it would “strictly enforce the separation policy” which means one adult/one room.  There was one mention of NAT nasal swab/throat swab but none about anal swabs. Yes, we did ask the State Department and USCG Guangzhou about this at that time but our email got chewed madly bad in an email grinder, never to be seen again. Either that or …
…. holy mother of god and all her wacky nephews please do not/do not make the dog eat our emails!
In any case, we sent a few question to the State Department’s Public Affairs shop asking if they could address the State Department’s vaccine delivery issues at overseas posts. We did say please, too, you guys! But to no avail.
It is our understanding that  State ordered enough vaccine, but HHS is refusing to turn over the entire allotment. Purportedly, the current administration also made a choice not to prioritize government workers (no matter where they serve, etc.) over average Americans in the vaccination. We asked if this is an actual policy on vaccine distribution but got no response.
We also wanted to know if Secretary Blinken is pushing the Biden Administration and HHS to release the remaining supply for DOS so State employees overseas get vaccinated and do not have to beg for those vaccines from their host countries.
We pointed out that given the State Department’s botched response to the Havana Syndrome, some overseas folks were understandably concerned that the health and safety of our people overseas does not matter back in DC.
Perhaps part of these concerns and anxieties also stem from the anecdotal evidence that some minor political appointees reportedly got their second shots just days before they left their jobs on January 20. And weren’t the same folks in charge of vaccinations at State before January 20 the same people in charge of vaccination decisions now?
Anyway, we waited. And we waited. And we waited for a response. We are sorry to report that we have not received a response to-date.
Source A did tell us that communication is spotty, and that there is frustration with Secretary Blinken for not saying anything about the vaccine shortage at State.  “At the moment, the feeling is that it’s not a priority of his.” Apparently, vaccines were originally promised sometime in December, then it became January, then February. This has now been replaced according to this same  source to what amounts to a message of  “we don’t know when you will get it.. maybe this summer.. you should get it locally if you can.”
So folks really just want to hear from their boss saying this is a priority, and that he’ll do something about it.
A second source, Source B,  told us that the leadership at State is communicating much more effectively to explain what the plans and rules are compared to Pompeo’s tenure  and pointed to a recent Zoom call attended by over 1,000 participants.
Source B who is familiar with the developments confirmed to us that State never got all the vaccines that HHS promised and that former Secretary of State Pompeo did call Secretary Azar but got nowhere. We do not know at this time if Secretary Blinken has pushed back or if he is working with HHS to obtain the full allocation for State. It is worth mentioning that the State Department currently does not have a nominee for the position of Under Secretary for Management. The position is currently filled in an acting capacity by the Senate-confirmed DGHR Carol Perez. We should note further that the calamitous response to the Havana Syndrome also occurred during a span of time when the State Department fired its Senate confirmed Under Secretary for Management, and no nominee was confirmed over a lengthy period, leaving only an Acting M. Another lesson not learned, eh?
Our understanding is that “a very small portion of domestic employees” has been vaccinated. One explanation was that for folks working in the buildings in DC, State is able to get almost all of them covered at the same time, whereas at overseas missions, there needs to be enough vaccines for all under Chief of Mission Authority. That is, all American and local employees from all agencies plus all American family members (folks reporting to combatant commands are not considered under COM authority).  A separate issue has to do with getting the vaccines to overseas posts via the cold chain.
If you’re on Twitter, go ahead and tag @SecBlinken, @SecDef, and @HHSGov.
Now we wait and see if anything gets done or if y’all need to start eating nine gin-soaked raisins for your health.

 


 

 

WHO’s Dr. Tedros Responds to Pompeo’s Reported Claim to UK MPs

Notable via Reuters:
“Infections in the United States have rapidly accelerated since the first COVID-19 case was detected on Jan. 21. It took the country 98 days to reach 1 million cases. It took another 43 days to reach 2 million and then 27 days to reach 3 million.”

 

Guatemala Gets a New Health Alert System, Movement Restrictions, Suspension of Services, Mandatory Masks, Curfew

 

The US Embassy in Guatemala issued a new Message for U.S. Citizens Regarding New Restrictions and Updates by Government of Guatemala in Response to COVID-19 on 14 July, 2020.

On Sunday, July 12, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei announced the following updates to restrictions in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic:

New health alert system: Guatemala will launch a tiered system of health alerts on July 27, providing updated information on levels of health risk in the country based on locality and time.  The threat ranking will be as follows:

TYPE OF ALERT   THREAT LEVEL
Green                     Normal
Yellow                    Moderate
Orange                   High
Red                         Maximum

The Embassy advises U.S. citizens in Guatemala to familiarize themselves with changes to the threat level in their areas.  For the next two weeks before the official launch, these alerts are meant to be informational only.  Following the official launch, Guatemalan authorities may impose specific restrictions to travel or activities in a given area based on its threat level.  Current health alerts and additional information can be found on the Ministry of Health’s website, via the following link: https://mspas.gob.gt.

Restrictions on Vehicular Mobility: In the departments of Guatemala, Escuintla, Sacatepequez, Suchitepequez, Izabal, El Progreso, Zacapa, Santa Rosa and Quetzaltenango, all personal vehicles with license plates that end in an odd number (for example P001AAA) are permitted to circulate Monday, July 13; Wednesday, July 15, Friday, July 17; Tuesday, July 21; Thursday, July 23, and Saturday, July 25.  All personal vehicles with license plates that end in an even number (for example P002AAA) are permitted to circulate on Tuesday, July 14; Thursday, July 16; Saturday, July 18; Monday, July 20; Wednesday, July 22; and Friday, July 24.  Motorcycles, pedestrians, and other modes of non-vehicular transportation are exempt from these restrictions.  All private vehicular mobility will be restricted on Sunday, July 19 and Sunday, July 26. 

Curfew Hours: Guatemala’s national mandatory curfew remains in place, running from 6:00 p.m. each evening through 5:00 a.m. the following day.  In addition, an extended curfew will be in place on weekends, beginning Saturday, July 18 and Saturday, July 25 at 2 p.m., and extending through 5:00 a.m. the following Monday.  This means that a full 24-hour curfew will be in place on Sunday, July 19 and Sunday, July 26.  Every individual in Guatemala — including U.S. citizens — is required to remain inside their domicile during curfew hours (with exceptions for health and security, restaurant delivery services, certain media and legal personnel in pursuit of their duties, and patients receiving urgent treatment for chronic conditions). 

Guidance on Inter-Department Travel: The suspension on inter-departmental travel has been lifted, but government of Guatemala the urges individuals to avoid travel into, out of, or between the departments of Guatemala, Escuintla, Sacatepequez, Suchitepequez, Izabal, El Progreso, Zacapa, Santa Rosa and Quetzaltenango.

Operating Hours for Essential Businesses: Supermarkets, grocers, other markets, and essential businesses are permitted to operate from 6:00 a.m. through 4:00 p.m.  Shopping malls and large commercial centers remain closed.

Mandatory Use of Masks in Public: All individuals must wear masks in public spaces, including in grocery stores and on the street, to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19 virus.  Failure to comply with this requirement will result in fines of up to 150,000 quetzales.

Closing of Borders: The Guatemalan government is currently barring entry to most non-Guatemalans (with specific exceptions for accredited diplomatic personnel, health and security personnel, and exceptional cases as designated by the Guatemalan government) – by its land, sea, and air borders.  Airport operations and routine commercial flights out of Guatemala have been suspended.  The U.S. Embassy continues to work with Guatemalan authorities to allow passengers manifested on outgoing commercial flights to travel to the airport in Guatemala City.  These passengers will receive letters requesting safe passage from their commercial carrier. 

Suspension of Public Transportation: Public transportation within Guatemala is suspended. 

Suspension of Public and Private Sector Labor Activities: Public and private sector labor is suspended, with the exceptions for certain essential government and health personnel, and for specific industries and utilities whose activities are essential to Guatemala’s security, food production, sanitation or infrastructure.  

Prohibitions on Alcohol: The sale and purchase of alcohol is permitted only during limited hours.   Consumption of alcohol in public areas is prohibited. 

Other Restricted Activities:  All beaches, lakes, rivers, and other tourist sites in Guatemala remain closed.  Public religious gatherings and celebrations of any size are prohibited.  Visits to individuals in hospitals or prisons are prohibited.  Academic activities at all levels are suspended until further notice.  

Additional Department and Municipality-Level Restrictions: Beyond the national-level restrictions mentioned above, different municipalities within the country may adopt additional restrictive measures on travel and outdoor activities.  Please monitor local news reports to receive the latest information. 

State of Prevention: The government of Guatemala has announced an extension of the State of Prevention, until July 30, 2020, for the municipalities of Nahualá, Santa Lucía Utatlán, and Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán, of the Department of Sololá. The State of Prevention is due to the ongoing security situation in the area caused by territorial disputes. Increased military and police presence can be expected in the area throughout the State of Prevention period.

We missed this, but the US Embassy in Guatemala previously suspended its routine consular services for U.S. citizens on June 22, 2020 until further notice  “due to COVID-19-related health and safety measures.”

While this suspension is in effect, the Embassy will provide passport services on an emergency basis only.  U.S. citizens with expired or soon-to-expire passports who have imminent travel plans to the United States may request an emergency appointment at the Embassy through the following email address: amcitsguatemala@state.gov.  The Embassy urges U.S. citizens to communicate all requests and confirm all appointment times through this e-mail; for health and safety reasons, the Embassy may not be able to accommodate walk-in requests.

The Embassy continues to accept adult passport renewal applications by mail. For more information on this process, please click here.  

Due to reduced operations at U.S. domestic facilities, U.S. citizens who have previously applied for routine passport or Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) services may expect delays in receiving their documents.  Applicants with documents in transit who have imminent travel plans to the United States may apply for emergency passports by scheduling an emergency appointment through the email address listed below.  As a reminder, U.S. citizen children do not require a CRBA to qualify for an emergency passport.

Also these:

US Mission Iraq Gets One COVID-19 Case From DOS Chartered Flight Out of Dulles

 

We recently learned that an individual who arrived at US Mission Iraq on a charter flight from Dulles, VA on July 1st has tested positive of COVID-19 and has been in quarantine since arrival.
We understand that the chartered aircraft was a 767 with 2-2-2 seating in business class and 2-3-2 seating in economy. The middle seat in economy was left open but the remaining seats were filled. The flight included over a hundred passengers who were either US direct-hire or contractors supporting Mission Iraq. We understand that some passengers purposefully did not wear their masks correctly during the flight.
Passengers were notified about the case on July 9th when all Mission personnel received an email from the Front Office. Passengers reportedly also received a call from post management to confirm they’d seen the email. The mission notification indicates that post is “in the process of contact tracing” to include at various points since the flight’s departure on June 30th. 
We also learned that post has no idea if the individual was COVID positive at the time of the flight. The CDC is advising people to “stay home for 14 days from the time you returned home from international travel” but what do you do with travel within the United States?
The passengers are subject to a 14-day quarantine upon arrival (apparently now standard procedure). However, there were understandably concerns that MED and post management did not provide details about when the infected person was tested or why there was over a week’s delay in post notification. It is also understood that post has  alerted those who were in close proximity to the infected individual but people have no idea on how wide an area of the plane was notified.    
We were wondering if employees can get a COVID-19 test if they ask for it or if tests are only available to those manifesting COVID-19 symptoms.
We learned today that those on the flight received a reminder today to check in with the MED unit before rejoining the general population on July 14. They were advised to discuss any symptoms they had during quarantine with MED and, “if we [MED Unit] feel it is necessary, we will perform a COVID-19 test”.
Does MED Iraq have the ability to process COVID-19 tests at post; and if not, where are these tests sent and what is the turn around for results? What about other posts without Embassy Baghdad’s resources?
Given that the U.S. is now a hotspot, are State Department employees and contractors tested prior to their departure to Iraq or elsewhere?
We should note that the United States is currently #1 in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world, and with over 137,000 deaths, it is also #1 in COVID-19 deaths in the world. For detailed situation update worldwide, see the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Kazakhstan Reinstates Quarantine Restrictions Throughout the Country For At Least 14 Days

 

On July 8, the US Mission in Kazakhstan  issued a Health Alert noting that the Kazakhstani Government has announced the reinstatement of quarantine restrictions throughout the country effective July 5.  Also that the Kazakhstani Ministry of Health has confirmed 51,059 cases of COVID-19 in the country as of July 8, 2020

New Quarantine Measures: The Kazakhstani Government has announced that quarantine restrictions will be reinstated throughout the country starting July 5. These restrictions will be in effect for at least 14 days, and may be extended or strengthened. Other municipalities may introduce restrictions beyond the below and with little or no notice; for the latest information, see your respective city’s website. Links are provided on our COVID-19 page.  

·         Transportation: Regional bus service will be suspended, and municipal transportation will be limited. Rail travel will be limited. Domestic and international air travel will remain at current levels.  

·         Businesses Shuttered: Most business will be closed, including beauty salons, gyms and fitness centers, pools, closed markets, beaches, cultural facilities, museums, exhibits, entertainment centers, religious facilities, movie theaters, food courts, and recreational facilities.  

·         Essential Businesses Exempt: Some essential business will continue to operate, including grocery stores, open-air markets, and pharmacies. Health centers will offer services by appointment. Limited enterprises, such as companies in construction, agriculture, auto service, and commercial banks will remain open. Restaurants will be open for delivery or take-out; summer patios will remain open.  

·         Personal Movement Limited: All large events and family gatherings are prohibited. Individual outdoor fitness activities are permitted, and people may walk in parks and other public spaces in groups of three or less. Individuals older than 65 years old are limited from leaving their residence.  

For U.S citizens who need to travel by vehicle from areas with restricted movement in order to reach an airport with international flights, the only assistance we can provide is to request passage through the checkpoints from the Government of Kazakhstan (GoK).  Based on the GoK’s requirements, you must provide us the below information at least four business days before your scheduled flight. Address this information to the following addresses: AlmatyUSCitizen@state.gov or Nur-SultanUSCitizen@state.gov. This information will be shared with the Kazakhstani Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

[…]

On March 14, 2020, the Department of State authorized the departure from any diplomatic or consular post in the world of US personnel and family members who have been medically determined to be at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19.

Read more:

ICE Says Student Visa Holders May Be Deported, @StateDept Whips Outs a Lipstick, Er … a Welcome Statement

 

 

US Embassy Brazil: Ambassador Chapman Takes “Precautions” After July 4th Lunch With Bolsonaro