Our clients and many others have been waiting for a visa interview for more than a year after the embassy cancelled and suspended visa interviews due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Recently, the U.S. Department of State, the federal agency in charge of all U.S. embassies, issued some updates on visa interviews.
Pend·ing /ˈpendiNG/ Awaiting decision or settlement. About to happen; imminent.
Does the above definition of pending sound familiar to you?
To us, it sounds like what the whole world has been sitting in for the last year of the COVID pandemic - believing that this odd experience is almost over, and then waiting for months while it still rages on - unsure of its conclusion.
Although aspects of daily life have returned to normal, there are still many industries that have not bounced back to a regular routine since the pandemic began, and one of these is U.S. embassies.
Worldwide, there is currently a backlog of nearly 2.6 million visa applications for the United States. This number includes nearly half a million applicants who are “documentarily qualified” - meaning they are ready for visa interviews. While many companies, non-profits, and even government agencies have turned to virtual platforms such as Zoom to conduct their regular business during the pandemic, U.S. embassies still require all visa interviews to be conducted in person before a consular officer, contributing to the backlog. If you have been waiting for a visa interview for an extended period, you are not alone.
Why Haven't U.S. Embassies Returned to Normal Operations Yet?
The location of each U.S. embassy is dependent upon the restrictions imposed by the local government. Many nations are still on very stringent lockdowns, brought on by a third wave of the virus. Much of Europe, Canada, the Philippines, and Kenya are currently under strict lockdowns, while Brazil and South Africa are battling the outbreaks of new COVID variants. Embassies were already facing a backlog because of the freeze on State Department hiring, which has left many consular sections understaffed. The Trump Administration lowered the influx of immigrants to the U.S., with a 65% drop in refugees admitted, and a 13% drop in permanent residency visas granted. Although he campaigned on promises to overturn Trump-era immigration policies, President Biden has recently drawn skepticism for not resolving these issues since he took office in January. These reasons combined have resulted in the current massive backlog that is at hand.
Are U.S. Embassies Conducting Any Visa Interviews?
U.S. Embassies are prioritizing visas over others, not necessarily based on when an individual applied. For now, the top priority for visa interviews are for immediate family members of U.S. citizens (parents, spouses and unmarried children under 21), fiancé visas, and other family-sponsored applications.
The government has also stated its prioritization of the processing of immigration visa cases previously refused under the rescinded Presidential Proclamations 9645 and 9983 (commonly referred to as the “Muslim ban”).
Are Nationals from Any Countries Restricted from Obtaining U.S. Visas?
Pursuant to the geographical COVID-19 restriction proclamations, visa issuance and entry into the United States is still restricted for people physically present in the United Kingdom, the European Union, Ireland, Brazil, South Africa, Iran, and China. There are certain exceptions, known as a National Interest Exception, to those restrictions though, so if you have a question on whether you are eligible, please contact our office.
What if I Need to go to the United States for an Emergency Situation?
On each Embassy or Consulate's website, there are directions on how to request an emergency visa appointment.
I Already Paid the Visa Application Fee, and it Expires in One Year - Will the U.S. Refund Me?
The Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fee usually expires within one year. However, due to the extended nature of visa appointment scheduling during this time, the State Department has extended the validity of MRV fees until September 30, 2022.
If you have questions about a pending visa application or need help with an emergency visa, please reach out to us at (757) 422-8472, or send us a message on our website. You can also schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys by clicking on this link.