On March 11, the State Department announced in a brief statement the expansion of visa interview waiver eligibility:
Secretary Blinken, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, has temporarily expanded the ability of consular officers to waive the in-person interview requirement for individuals applying for a nonimmigrant visa in the same classification. Previously, only those applicants whose nonimmigrant visa expired within 24 months were eligible for an interview waiver. The Secretary has temporarily extended the expiration period to 48 months. This policy is in effect until December 31, 2021. This change will allow consular officers to continue processing certain nonimmigrant visa applications while limiting the number of applicants who must appear at a consular section, thereby reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission to other applicants and consular staff. Travelers are encouraged to review the website of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for detailed information on what services are currently available as well as eligibility information and instructions on applying for a visa without an interview.
The original announcement is available here.
HFAC/Oversight and Investigations Committee
July 21, 2020 10:00 AM
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Consular Affairs
U.S. Department of State
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Overseas Citizen Services
U.S. Department of State
The State Department projected a $1.4 billion loss which is about 50 percent of Consular Affair’s revenue this fiscal year (ending September 30, 2020). It is also facing comparable losses in FY2021 and FY2022.
This is a big deal.
PDAS Brownlee told the committee that CA is looking at $359M savings from FY2020 — he talked about significant reduction in this year’s spending but only cited contractors in visa waiting rooms, and a number other unspecified projects domestic and overseas that would be impacted. He did say that services for American citizens “will not be put out of business.”
Where are we going to see funding cuts?
The reality though is consular fees do not just fund visa operations overseas but also passport operations domestic and overseas. It also funds various parts of the State Department. And most notably, it funds 4,859 U.S. Direct Hire personnel under Consular Affairs and “partner bureau positions.” A $1.4 billion loss this fiscal year and in each of FY2021 and FY2022 will have a cascading effect in various parts of the organization.
Revenues from Department-retained consular fees and surcharges fund Consular and Border Security Program (CBSP) activities. The State Department’s congressional justification in FY 2020 for CBSP funding includes the following:
- Consular Systems and Technology: $453.4 million
- Domestic Executive Support: $34.3 million
- Fraud Prevention Programs: $5.4 million
- Visa Processing: $237.5 million
- Passport Directorate: $810.3 million
- American Citizen Services: $16.2 million
- Consular Affairs Overseas Support: $964.6 million
- FSN Separation Liability Trust Fund: $4.9 million
CBSP SUPPORT/DEPARTMENT OF STATE PARTNERS: $524.3 million
- Bureau of Administration: $53.8 million
- Bureau of Diplomatic Security: $66.3 million
- Foreign Service Institute: $25.9 million
- Bureau of Information Resource Management: $58.3 million
- Office of the Legal Advisor: $0.3 million
- Bureau of Overseas Building Operations: $264.4 million
- Repatriation Loans: $0.8 million
- Comptroller and Global Financial Services (CGFS): $1.0 million
- Confidential Investigations: $0.2 million
- Post Assignment Travel: $39.1 million
- Bureau of Human Resources: $13.9 million
CBSP STAFF / AMERICAN SALARIES: $703.5 million
Human resources are a vital component of CBSP activities. The Department devotes a significant amount of effort and resources towards increasing efficiency and capacity in the visa and passport processes, ensuring adequate staffing levels both domestically and overseas. The FY 2020 Request of $703.5 million, a $58.7 million increase from the FY 2019 Request, supports 4,859 U.S. Direct Hire personnel. These positions are primarily in the Bureau of Consular Affairs but also include CBSP-funded partner bureau positions. This increase restores the eight percent reduction included in the FY 2019 President’s Budget Request and annualizes costs associated with the Department’s FY 2018 and proposed FY 2019 Strategic Hiring Plans.
National Interest Exceptions for Certain Travelers from the Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland
Last Updated: July 16, 2020
Certain business travelers, investors, treaty traders, academics, and students may qualify for National Interest Exceptions under Presidential Proclamations (PPs) 9993 (Schengen Area) and 9996 (United Kingdom and Ireland). Qualified business and student travelers who are applying for or have valid visas or ESTA authorization may travel to the United States even as PPs 9993 and 9996 remain in effect.
Students traveling from the Schengen Area, the UK, and Ireland with valid F-1 and M-1 visas, do not need to seek a national interest exception to travel. Students from those areas who are traveling on a J-1 may contact the nearest embassy or consulate to initiate an exception request.The Department of State also continues to grant National Interest Exceptions for qualified travelers seeking to enter the United States for purposes related to humanitarian travel, public health response, and national security.
Granting national interest exceptions for this travel to the United States from the Schengen area, UK, and Ireland, will assist with the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and bolster key components of our transatlantic relationship.
We appreciate the transparency and concerted efforts of our European partners and allies to combat this pandemic and welcome the EU’s reciprocal action to allow key categories of essential travel to continue.
Also see: Exceptions to Presidential Proclamations (10014 & 10052) Suspending the Entry of Immigrants and Nonimmigrants Presenting a Risk to the United States Labor Market During the Economic Recovery Following the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Outbreak
Why does @StateDept issue statements like this? “International Students are Welcome in the U.S.”? Really? It’s like when they release statements praising the US treatment of refugees or claim America leads the world’s response to Covid-19. Why do this? To confuse historians? https://t.co/vzH0avchfU
— Nahal Toosi (@nahaltoosi) July 7, 2020
ICE is telling international students on F-1 and M-1 visas that if their school is doing online-only courses they must leave the country or transfer to a place with in-person instruction—or they'll be deemed in the US illegally and subject to deportation. https://t.co/O0T8QITNKG
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) July 6, 2020
This is bad. ICE just told students here on student visas that if their school is going online-only this fall, the students must depart the United States and cannot remain through the fall semester. https://t.co/8DteVzexLB pic.twitter.com/OfkWRKFZZE
— Aaron Reichlin-Melnick (@ReichlinMelnick) July 6, 2020
International student visas are at risk as schools switch to online classes.
— Bloomberg TV (@BloombergTV) July 7, 2020
State/CA released this on April 23, 2020: Proclamation Suspending Entry of Immigrants Who Present Risk to the U.S. Labor Market During the Economic Recovery Following the COVID-19 Outbreak
On Wednesday, April 22, President Trump signed a proclamation suspending entry into the United States of certain immigrants who present risk to the U.S. labor market during the economic recovery following the COVID-19 outbreak. The proclamation is effective at 11:59 p.m. EDT on Thursday, April 23 and expires in 60 days, unless continued by the President.
U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and those holding valid immigrant visas on the effective date of the Proclamation, are not subject to the proclamation. The Proclamation is not retroactive. No valid visas will be revoked under this Proclamation. The proclamation provides exceptions to its restrictions for certain categories of immigrants, including: certain healthcare professionals, aliens seeking to enter the United States pursuant to an EB-5 investor visa, spouses and children (categories IR2, CR2, IR3, IH3, IR4, IH4) of U.S. citizens, members of the United States Armed Forces and any spouse and children of a member of the United States Armed Forces, and aliens seeking to enter the United States pursuant to an Afghan and Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa. Please refer to the proclamation for a full list of exceptions. Routine visas services have been suspended at U.S. posts worldwide, but as resources allow, embassies and consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services for applicants who are not subject to this presidential proclamation.
The full text of the presidential proclamation is available on the White House website at:
See immigrant visa categories here.
Per Sec 2.(b) of the Proclamation.
The suspension and limitation on entry pursuant to section 1 of this proclamation shall not apply to:
(i) any lawful permanent resident of the United States;
(ii) any alien seeking to enter the United States on an immigrant visa as a physician, nurse, or other healthcare professional; to perform medical research or other research intended to combat the spread of COVID-19; or to perform work essential to combating, recovering from, or otherwise alleviating the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees; and any spouse and unmarried children under 21 years old of any such alien who are accompanying or following to join the alien;
(iii) any alien applying for a visa to enter the United States pursuant to the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program;
(iv) any alien who is the spouse of a United States citizen;
(v) any alien who is under 21 years old and is the child of a United States citizen, or who is a prospective adoptee seeking to enter the United States pursuant to the IR-4 or IH-4 visa classifications;
(vi) any alien whose entry would further important United States law enforcement objectives, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees, based on a recommendation of the Attorney General or his designee;
(vii) any member of the United States Armed Forces and any spouse and children of a member of the United States Armed Forces;
(viii) any alien seeking to enter the United States pursuant to a Special Immigrant Visa in the SI or SQ classification, subject to such conditions as the Secretary of State may impose, and any spouse and children of any such individual; or
(ix) any alien whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees.
Note that the State Department already suspended routine visa services in most countries on March 18, 2020.
Stephen Miller, the architect of the president's immigration agenda, told conservative allies that Trump’s decision to suspend family-based immigration due to the coronavirus is the start of a broader strategy to reduce the flow of foreigners into the U.S. https://t.co/xKpsGdQXNo
— NYT Politics (@nytpolitics) April 25, 2020
— Michelle Hackman (@MHackman) April 22, 2020
President Trump's plan to suspend immigration into the U.S. will not apply to foreign farm workers https://t.co/5YYEwi9eTa
— POLITICO (@politico) April 21, 2020
CLARIFICATION: Please note that you must have an approved U.S. non-immigrant or immigrant visa petition (I-129, I-140, or similar) or a certificate of eligibility in an approved exchange visitor program (DS-2019) to apply. https://t.co/U9uVQ5tz6Q
— Travel – State Dept (@TravelGov) March 27, 2020
I am told that Kenyan nurses and doctors are lining up at the US Embassy in Nairobi fighting to go to the US to help fight Covid 19.
Such departures at these times should be considered treason. #KaaNyumbani
— Robert Alai (@RobertAlai) March 28, 2020
The U.S. Mission wishes to clarify that the U.S. is not recruiting foreign medical professionals to assist in the COVID-19 response. Only individuals with an approved H or J petition will receive an emergency visa appointment. pic.twitter.com/Drj2U484of
— U.S. Mission Nigeria (@USEmbassyAbuja) March 27, 2020
Great outcome from our discussions with State Department, which will restart processing of J and H visa applications from medical professionals. An important first step, and we must address other significant obstacles for newly matched #IMGs. #SARSCoV2 https://t.co/pR5TPXRsjk
— William W. Pinsky, MD, FAAP, FACC (@ECFMGPrez) March 27, 2020
I’m told this tweet landed “poorly” @StateDept. US diplomats had no heads up. Visa services are supposed to be frozen. Calls from interested people are pouring in, so US citizens stuck abroad can’t get through. And it looks like the US is trying to steal other countries’ doctors. https://t.co/ilbic6pRaf
— Nahal Toosi (@nahaltoosi) March 27, 2020
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Say, Ian, I wanted to ask you a question about this doctor visas thing that you have on your web page. Are you moving medical professionals who can work on COVID-19 treatments basically to the front of the line or speeding up their processing or give them – giving them some sort of preference? And what would you say to people who say you’re essentially trying to poach people and you’re encouraging a brain drain? Thank you.
MR BROWNLEE: We had – excuse – thank you, Carol, for that question. We had some – I’ve got to confess maybe what we put up on the web page is not as clear as it might have been. We’re ready to work with people who are already accepted into existing U.S. programs and had otherwise planned to travel to the United States. We are not going out looking for others. These are people who were ready to come in. What we’ve done is around the world we have suspended routine visa services, but we are – we have not shut down visa services. We’ve suspended routine visa services, and our posts overseas are ready to work with applicants who are – who were already identified as being eligible for these visas. Does that answer your question?
QUESTION: My question is that – can I actually just follow up on Carol’s question about the visas with regards to the medical professionals? Thank you for the clarification, and I appreciate you saying the initial tweet maybe wasn’t clear enough. Can you – based on what you just said, can we just say now that there is actually an exception to medical professionals who already have their jobs secured but they need their visa to be processed? So can we say that State Department is actually processing those visas, because at the moment all other visas are suspended? And can you elaborate a little bit more on the motivation to process those visas over others? Thank you.
MR WALTERS: [MED CROSSING TO CA LANE]
Well, let me clarify one point. All other visas are not suspended. They are not suspended. We have suspended routine visa services so that we can concentrate our efforts on assisting U.S. citizens. But all other visa services are by no means suspended. So for example, adoption visas. We are still processing visas for U.S. couples who are adopting children overseas. In some cases where there are immigrant visas where an applicant would be at risk of aging out under the law, we are still processing those visas. What we’ve done is substantially reduced our – the provision of visa services.
But let me just – for the sake of absolute clarity, I will read you the – what we are saying about these student – excuse me, about these doctors. The Department of State stands ready to work with doctors and other medical professionals who are already accepted into existing U.S. programs and otherwise expected to travel to the United States to work or study. Even though routine visa services are suspended, the Department and our post services are working to serve the most urgent visa applicants as resources and local government restrictions allow. We encourage medical professionals who already have an approved U.S. visa petition or certificate of eligibility in an approved exchange visitor program, particularly those working to treat or mitigate the effects of COVID-19, to consult with the relevant U.S. embassy or consulate to determine what services that post is currently able to provide. Over.
QUESTION: Hi there. I’m sorry, I’m still confused about this whole physician, medical professional visa thing. If in fact there’s no special treatment being given to them or you’re not specifically encouraging them, why did you put out this tweet or this statement that was also on the travel.state.gov? It wasn’t just a tweet. I don’t get it. It just seems to be – if there is no special treatment, it seems to be a bit tone deaf, considering this mad scramble that everyone else in the world is going through, and including in the U.S.
And then the other thing I’d just like to point out is for everyone else who got that fact sheet, which is great – thank you very much – but make sure you scroll down in the repatriation section, because you don’t see all of the countries at first, and I made that mistake just now. Anyway, thank you for doing this.
MR BROWNLEE: I’m sorry. Once again, I had mute pressed. Matt, I – what I said to myself here was I’m going to have to take the question as to how this all came to pass. But we are still processing visas around the world for certain cases. These are one, certain H-2As are another. But otherwise I’m happy to take that question. Thank you.
On March 19, the State Department issued a Global Level 4 Do Not Travel Health Advisory. Excerpt below:
The Department of State advises 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.
On March 14, the Department of State authorized the departure of U.S. personnel and family members from any diplomatic or consular post in the world who have determined they are at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19 or who have requested departure based on a commensurate justification. These departures may limit the ability of U.S. Embassies and consulates to provide services to U.S. citizens.
Also see our March 15 post, @StateDept Issues Global “Authorized Departure” For Certain USG Personnel and Family Members.
The State Department may not be referencing this event by any specific term, but this is effectively a “remain in country” policy in reality as travel has been severely restricted in many places.
How are people going to get home?
Or is the State Department going to mount a global evacuation for private American citizens from over 270 embassies and consulates?
For USG employees overseas, this technically becomes “shelter in place”. Employees and family members on voluntary departure orders but caught in border closures may not have flights out. If/When they do get out, they will end up in European hubs with travel restrictions or quarantine policies in place. What happens after they arrive in Paris, or Frankfurt, or London is unknown. Employees and family members waiting for their posts to get approved for “ordered departures” will be stuck in their host country or some in-between places even if the OD requests are approved. Borders are closed. Flights severely curtailed or suspended.
A week ago, American (according to a CNN report. Its March 12 announcement, AA says it will “Continue to operate flights to and from Europe for up to seven days to ensure customers and employees can return home.” Seven days later is March 19th. The State Department’s Level 4 Do Not Travel advisory was announced today, March 19th. Suspended AA flights are not expected to resume until early May.), the world’s largest airline and a leader in trans-Atlantic flights, said it would operate many of its European flights through at least March 18
The COVID-19 outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020. It wasn’t until March 11, when the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
Also on March 11, Trump Announces Travel Ban For Travelers From Schengen Area (26 European Countries) Over COVID-19 effective March 13, 2020.
The State Department’s page on “Options During a Pandemic” was reduced to a 2-paragraph snippet in 2018, which indicates the level of priority it assigns to informing Americans what happens to them, and what they can expect from the U.S. Government during a pandemic.
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