Coronavirus impacts US border travel and immigration

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a major impact on travel to the United States, processing of US visa applications overseas, and processing of immigration applications in the United States.

  • Air travel to the United States from China, Iran, Europe (the Schengen Area), Ireland, the UK and more recently Brazil, South Africa and India has been limited to U.S. citizens, U.S. permanent residents, certain close relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, spouses and children of citizens and permanent residents, and other listed exceptions, including the National Interest Exceptions (NIE). These are issued by consulates.
  • The White House announced on September 20 that fully vaccinated travelers from the currently banned countries will be permitted to travel to the United States in “early November.” The exact date and other details have not been announced.
  • There have been no new formal travel restrictions from Canada by air, except travelers must present a negative COVID test taken during the three day period before arrival in the United States. All pre-existing admissibility requirements, continue to exist. For instance, visitors must still show intent to return to their home country rather than remaining permanently in the United States. Travel from Canada to the United States by air is not limited to “essential travel.”
  • Since March 21, 2020, land border crossings from both Canada and Mexico have been limited to “essential travel.” However, essential travel to the U.S. has been defined broadly to include U.S. citizens; U.S. permanent residents; students; foreign workers; cross-border trade, such as truck drivers; and numerous other categories. The only persons specifically excluded are those traveling to the U.S. for “tourism purposes (e.g., sightseeing, recreation, gambling, or attending cultural events).” Click here for the text of the US-Canada border restrictions. (The Mexican version is substantially the same.) These restrictions with respect to the Canadian border have now been extended until October 21, 2021.
  • The U.S. Department of State cancelled all “routine” immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments early in the pandemic. Emergency appointments are available, and routine appointments are now gradually starting to resume in some countries. There is currently a backlog of about 500,000 immigrant visa applications waiting for interviews to be scheduled. Spouses and fiances of U.S. citizens have been prioritized.
  • In March, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) closed all offices open to the public, and cancelled all in-person interviews, such as Citizenship and marriage interviews. Citizenship ceremonies were also cancelled. Beginning June 4, 2020, USCIS began to re-open local offices for limited purposes with COVID-19 safety precautions. Biometrics appointments and interviews have also been resumed. Click here for updates to USCIS office re-openings.
  • USCIS continues to process immigration applications at the Service Centers, such as I-129 petitions for immigrant workers, I-130 family petitions, and N-400 naturalization applications. USCIS has announced it will accept scanned signatures on these applications.

Please do not make any travel plans based on the information in this news item until you have independently verified that such planned travel is still legal and practical, as this remains a fluid situation.

The offices of Allen & Hodgman in the U.S. and Canada remain available and will remain available throughout this crisis.