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Update on Halt in Travel From Europe and Other COVID-19 Preparations and Immigration Impacts

12 Mar

In the last 24 hours, the World Health Organization has labeled COVID-19 a pandemic, President Trump has halted most travel from Europe to the United States for a period of 30 days, and U.S. Congressional leaders and the Trump Administration are working on stimulus legislation to mitigate the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on a variety of industries. These steps underscore the fact that there are impacts from both the virus itself and the preparations that are being made to stem the spread of the virus in the United States.

30-Day Halt on Travel from Most European Countries

On March 11, 2020, President Trump issued a proclamation restricting travel to the United States by most people who have been in most areas of Europe within the past 14 days. The restriction will go into effect Friday, March 13, 2020, and will remain in effect for 30 days.
The impacted area of Europe is the Schengen area, which includes 26 European countries that allow for unrestricted movement of people. The United Kingdom and Ireland are not within the Schengen area and are not covered by the proclamation.
U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents are not excluded from travel to the United States, but they must depart from certain airports where they will be screened prior to departing for the United States. Immediate family members (spouse and children) of U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents should also be permitted to travel to the United States following screening. Other limited exceptions may apply, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has indicated further implementation guidance is forthcoming.
Various other countries have implemented their own travel restrictions, which can be found on the Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs webpage addressing COVID-19 Country Specific Information. Travelers should check with airlines as well as official agency information published by the target country prior to showing up at the airport.
Because of the various levels of international travel disruption around the globe, some companies have suspended international travel for their workforce until further notice.  As more companies begin to suspend travel, employees may find themselves with few ways or means to return home; accordingly, travelers are advised to assess the need for travel prior to making plans.
The 30-day halt on travel from Europe to the United States in accordance with the proclamation is scheduled to begin on Friday, March 13th.

COVID-19 Impact on U.S. Embassies and Consular Operations

As more Embassies and Consulates feel the direct impact of COVID-19, either through confirmed positive testing of personnel or through preventive telecommuting, applicants should anticipate large numbers of visa appointment cancellations, which can impact their ability to return to the United States, even if they are seeking to return from an unrestricted area.  It is unclear how long these temporary dislocations may last.

Currently a number of U.S. Embassies and Consular posts have begun canceling visa appointments and have advised applicants that their appointments will need to be rescheduled. Currently posts in Spain, Jamaica, and Germany are cancelling appointments and limiting operations due to either confirmed COVID-19 cases or precautionary measures. It is likely that more posts will announce cancellations as additional waves of positive tests or precautionary measures rollout globally.
Once the initial waves of COVID-19 begin to subside, applicants should be prepared for an initial period of delay in the rescheduling of appointments and availability of resources to conduct consular interview services will likely return more gradually than they were cancelled, though U.S. citizen services should remain available at posts worldwide.
Foreign national employees residing in the U.S. and who are working pursuant to L-1 visas and who had planned to apply for their new or renewed L-1 visas under their employer’s approved Blanket L program at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad should reconsider these plans in light of the potential for disruption of their international travel.  Those requiring amended petitions or who have expiration dates approaching in the next seven months should contact their Foster immigration attorney to begin the extension process at this time.

COVID-19 Preparations Impact on U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services Operations

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services and other Federal agencies have begun to make arrangements for wider use of remote work agreements to enable employees to work most or all of the time from a non-USCIS work location. While remote work can be an effective and efficient work solution, initial rollout may result in lower productivity, which could translate into longer adjudication times for petitioners and applicants who have applied for immigration benefits. Petitioners and applicants should anticipate that adjudication times will lengthen rather than abate as the agency addresses and responds to the potential threat of COVID-19.
Applicants who must appear for an in-person interview at a local USCIS office, such as those applying for adjustment of status to U.S. lawful permanent residency, will also be impacted if and when offices begin to restrict their hours of operation or interview schedules. Appointments will likely be cancelled and will need to be rescheduled in the future. Applicants who have appointments already scheduled should stay tuned for potential cancellation. 
Applicants who have been waiting for years will likely find themselves waiting at least a while longer. Those who hoped to be approved for permanent residency soon may have avoided filing petitions and applications for extension of nonimmigrant status, employment authorization, and advance parole travel documents. Anyone delaying renewal or extension filings should reconsider and plan to file for renewal or extension at the earliest opportunity.
In general, all petitioners and applicants should anticipate longer adjudication times for the foreseeable future.

Foster LLP Preparations to Provide Continuous Client Service

Foster LLP is also preparing to manage the impact of the COVID-19 virus and its potential to spread more broadly in the United States. Our workforce is not only our backbone, but also our heart and soul. We value our employees and care for them as deeply as we do our clients. Foster has the technological infrastructure to deliver continuous service including conducting conference calls and video meetings and working with remote access. 
Foster clients should continue to expect timely service and filing of petitions and applications for immigration benefits and should contact their Foster immigration attorney with any questions. Foster will continue to monitor government action related to COVID-19 and will provide additional updates on the immigration-related impacts of COVID-19 via our firm’s website at