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, April 12, 2021

Immigrants, Fiancées, Certain Exchange Visas Exempt From COVID Travel Restriction Policy

Great news has come for those who have been waiting indefinitely from around the world for the immigrants (permanent residence), K-1 fiancé visa, or certain J exchange visitor visas because of the geographic COVID restrictions.  The State Department just announced new exemptions from the travel ban for them.   

Embassies and consulates in South Africa, Brazil, the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, China, and Iran will resume processing of the aforementioned visas after they were announced exempt from the Presidential Proclamation travel bans.  These regions were subject to many months of travel ban due to their high number of Covid cases.  

Embassies and consulates will prioritize immediate family members of U.S. citizens and Special Immigrant Visa applicants. Nonimmigrant foreign diplomats, travelers with urgent needs, and travelers assisting with the pandemic crisis have higher priority than students, exchange visitors (J visa) and temporary employment workers.

The J visa categories included are travel by an au pair with special skills to care for a minor USC, LPR, or lawful nonimmigrant, an au pair whose care prevents a USC, LPR, or lawful nonimmigrant from becoming a public health charge, or an au pair that cares for a minor with parents providing care to COVID patients. Participants in J visitor exchange programs with a valid agreement between a foreign government and any U.S. federal, state, or local government entity that is designed to promote U.S. national interests, and the agreement was in effect before June 24, 2020, also qualify for travel exemption. 

Others include trainees and specialized teachers with program numbers starting with G-3 and G-5 on their DS-2019. Travel for exchange programs that support certain foreign policy objectives is also allowed. 

Aircraft pilots and workers applying for B-1/B-2, B-1, M-1 visas, or through the Visa Waiver Program are also given exemptions to travel. M-2 dependents also can travel if the principal M-1 visa holder's training program is over 4 weeks long. 

Our office has received notices of visa appointments soon after this policy change, but it is important to note that this new policy may not be enforced in the same pace in different locations. Applicants are considered for exemption when interviewed at their respective consulate.   Each consulate or embassy will have more specific information on how it will carry out this policy, based on their resources and local conditions. Applicants should check with their local consulate for more instructions. 

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