Coronavirus impacts US border travel and immigration

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a major impact on travel to the United States, processing of US visa applications overseas, and processing of immigration applications in the United States. Here are some important updates:

  • 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).
  • There are no new formal travel restrictions from Canada by air. 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.”
  • As of Saturday, March 21, 2020, land border crossings from both Canada and Mexico will be 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 July 21, 2021. Talks between Canada and the U.S. are ongoing for the purpose of easing these restrictions in the months ahead.
  • 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. There is currently a backlog of about 500,000 immigrant visa applications waiting for interviews to be scheduled.
  • 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 is a very fluid situation.

The offices of Allen & Hodgman in the U.S. and Canada remain available and will remain available throughout this crisis. Please contact us if you need help with any urgent immigration matter.