The Department of State recently released several updates on visa services and national interest exception policy for regional COVID proclamations:
Visa Services Guidance
Referring to continued restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, the Department announced on April 6, 2021, that U.S. embassies and consulates that process nonimmigrant visa applications “are prioritizing travelers with urgent needs, foreign diplomats, mission-critical categories of travelers (such as those coming to assist with the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and workers who are essential to the American food supply), followed by students, exchange visitors, and some temporary employment visas.”
With respect to visa services, for consular sections that have the capacity, “the processing of immigrant and [fiancé(e)] visas, particularly for immediate relatives and other family-sponsored applicants, is our highest priority. U.S. Embassies and Consulates are also prioritizing the processing of immigrant visa cases previously refused under the rescinded Presidential Proclamations 9645 and 9983,” the Department said.
The Department noted that as a result of the pandemic, appointment capacity continues to be reduced, which “has created a significant backlog of both immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants awaiting a visa interview.” The Department said it is working to reduce the backlog.
National Interest Exceptions
The Department announced on April 8, 2021, that the travel of immigrants, fiancé(e) visa holders, certain exchange visitors, and pilots and aircrew traveling to the United States for training or aircraft pickup, delivery, or maintenance is in the national interest for purposes of approving exceptions under the “geographic” COVID Presidential Proclamations (9984, 9992, and 10143).
The Department noted that these proclamations “restrict the entry of individuals physically present, within the 14-day period prior to their attempted entry into the United States, in the People’s Republic of China, Islamic Republic of Iran, Schengen Area, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Federative Republic of Brazil, or Republic of South Africa.”