A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration lawyer. We serve clients in all U.S. states and overseas countries. (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

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Monday, January 27, 2020

The Coronavirus' Impact on Travel and U.S. Visa Services

The sudden outbreak of the coronavirus has made it almost impossible to travel in and out of Wuhan, China, where it was first identified. Authorities announced a citywide lockdown, stopping air and rail travel in and out of Wuhan in an attempt to lower contagion. The U.S. embassy in China has issued a warning to not travel to Hubei province. Approximately 1,000 U.S. citizens have been caught in the middle of this situation, unable to leave the country.

U.S. diplomats were quick to arrange an evacuation for citizens in Wuhan. The U.S. government has arranged for a plane to transport U.S. consulate workers, American citizens, and their families from Wuhan back to the United States. The flight is scheduled for 1/28/2020 and will transport around 230 people from Wuhan Tianhe International Airport to San Francisco. The U.S. embassy urges any U.S. citizen holding a passport to contact them, though seating is very limited. There is no mention of whether any more flights will be arranged.

The American Consulate in Wuhan will be temporarily shut down. Anyone needing a visa to enter the U.S. should go to the other 4 other consulates in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenyang, or the embassy in Beijing. Applicants for L1 and H1B visas may only apply at the U.S. consulates in Guangzhou, Shanghai, or U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Other consulates will not process their type of visa.

U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau is also on alert. Hong Kong has 8 confirmed cases of the virus thus far and has declared the outbreak to be an emergency.  Both the Consulate General in Hong Kong and American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) issued warnings against traveling to Hubei province. 

In general, American visa services are expected to be negatively impacted by the Chinese epidemic. Processing time of applications will likely to be longer.  Travelers are advised to plan things accordingly if they must travel internationally

The spread of the deadly new coronavirus has proven to be rapid and fierce.  There are no vaccines for the virus, which has already spread to many countries including Thailand, Hong Kong, the United States, Taiwan, Australia, Macau, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, France, Canada, Vietnam, Nepal,  and Cambodia. Scientists and medical professionals are fighting day and night to stop the coronavirus from becoming a full-blown pandemic.  Until things get better, international travel will continue to be severely impacted. 

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