The impact of COVID-19 on international travel is evolving minute by minute as travel restrictions are being announced on a global scale. The United States Department of State (“Department of State”) recently announced that it is suspending all routine visa services at United States (“U.S.”) Embassies abroad, in addition to issuing a Level 4 travel advisory discouraging all international travel. This is on top of U.S., Canada and Mexico border closure announcements and the already restricted travel for foreign nationals from 26 European countries, China and Iran. The United States Citizenship & Immigration Service (“USCIS”) also announced this past Friday, March 20, that it is suspending expedited premium processing service on all I-129 petitions which will affect the timely processing of most nonimmigrant visa petitions. A summary of these recent immigration updates, travel restrictions and suspension of visa services, is detailed below.

Department of State Suspends all Visa Services

  • All routine nonimmigrant AND immigrant visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates have been suspended.
  • As resources allow, embassies and consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission-critical visa services.
  • Services to U.S. citizens continue to be available.

Department of State has Issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory

  • All international travel is discouraged.
  • U.S. Citizens, who are currently outside of the country, must return to the U.S. immediately or be prepared to reside outside of the U.S. indefinitely.

U.S. – Mexico Border Closure – In Effect until April 21, 2020

On March 20, 2020, President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. – Mexico border will close to all non-essential travel for 30 days.

  • Effective at 12 a.m., March 21, 2020, the U.S. and Mexico will temporarily restrict all non-essential travel across the U.S.-Mexico land border for 30 days.
  • Trade and commerce will continue.
  • Examples of “Essential Travel” include but are not limited to: travel for medical purposes, to attend educational institutions, for emergency response/public health purposes and lawful cross-border trade.
  • Non-essential travel will be temporarily suspended for 30 days.

U.S. – Canada Border Closure – In Effect until April 21, 2020

  • Effective March 21, 2020, the U.S. and Canada will also temporarily restrict all non-essential travel across the U.S.-Canada land border for 30 days.
  • “Non-essential” travel is travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature.
  • Canada announced that U.S. citizens and Canadian citizens who cross the land border daily to perform “essential work” or for other urgent or essential reasons will not be impacted by the closure
  • Commercial Trade and commerce such as supply chains, including trucking, are NOT impacted.

USCIS Suspends Premium Processing Service on Nonimmigrant Visa Petitions

  • On March 20, USCIS announced a total, immediate suspension of premium processing for all cases filed with Form I-129 (which includes H1B, L-1, O-1 and many other nonimmigrant petitions). Cases already filed will be processed accordingly, but from the effective date, no cases will be accepted for premium processing. This will create significant delays in onboarding foreign national workers who require initial visa sponsorship, pushing processing times from two weeks with expedited premium processing service to upwards of two to four months for H1B visas or 7.5 – 9.5 months for L-1 visas.

Maintenance of Nonimmigrant H-1B Status During COVID-19:

  • H-1B employees temporarily working from a home office location that is within the same Metropolitan Statistical Area (“MSA”) as the employer’s work location should post the Labor Condition Application (“LCA”) posting notice for 10 days at the employee’s home office as soon as possible, but no later than 30 days after the employee begins working at the home office location.
  • Employers with an approved LCA may also move H-1B workers to unintended worksite locations outside of the area(s) of intended employment on the LCA using the short-term placement provisions. As required for all short-term placements, the employer’s placement must meet the requirements of 20 CFR 655.735.

Maintenance of F-1 Nonimmigrant Status During a Layoff:

  • F-1 students employed pursuant to their first year of post-completion optional practical training (OPT) who are terminated may remain unemployed for up to a total of 90 days.
  • F-1 students employed pursuant to their STEM period of post-completion optional practical training (OPT) who are terminated may remain unemployed for up to 150 days.
  • Periods of unemployment accrued during the first year of post-completion OPT count towards the 150-day unemployment period permitted to their STEM OPT holders.