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Coming to America

by | Jun 30, 2021 | Firm News

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Does anyone even remember that movie? I never thought it was particularly good back in 1988 when it was released. It was on recently and I watched a few scenes. I don’t think I really appreciated how talented Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall were, playing all the “other” characters apart from their own main characters. In any event, that’s not what I really want to write about.

The title of the movie had me thinking recently how incredibly challenging it has become to “come to America” right now, particularly as we still are dealing with what I hope are the remnants of COVID-19.  The amount of “delay” that is now baked into the overall immigration process as a result of COVID-19 is incredible (including a reported eight-fold increase in the consular immigrant visa backlog).[1]  But I’m not really focusing on those delays, bad as they still are. No, what I am talking about now are delays which have occurred in the issuance of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas at our embassies and consulates around the world as a result of shutdowns, travel bans and so on.

A large part of the calls and emails that my staff and I field these days are questions asking when someone’s family member will finally be scheduled for their immigrant visa interview, or their fiancé visa interview, or any interview that was postponed as a result of COVID. I’m also getting daily calls from employers whose employees are stuck outside the United States because they cannot get a new visa, or perhaps they’re from or in a country where COVID-19 rates are high and, as a result, our government is not allowing them to return. Families and employers are feeling desperate.

In addition to pandemic-related delays, the Trump Administration spent pretty much its entire four years imposing travel bans targeting anyone and everyone, including those based on their faith, country of origin, whether they were smart enough, and even whether they were healthy enough.  Although President Biden has rescinded some of Trump’s handiwork,[2] he has not rescinded them all because of (his administration says) ongoing COVID-19 concerns, some of which I’ve mentioned above.

We need to get back up to speed, and fast. The ongoing travel bans and visa restrictions have had, and continue to have, significant consequences for individuals, families, and U.S. employers. The travel bans are keeping families separated. The travel bans are also impairing the ability of U.S. employers to bring in foreign talent, or bring back their own employees to the United States. The travel bans are also having a huge impact on seasonal employers and the positions they need to fill.  All of this is preventing our nation from the economic recovery it desperately needs.

We need action now. A good starting point would be eliminating the travel bans that were enacted by the Trump Administration under the guise of stopping the spread of COVID and replacing them with common sense measures that are based on modern science. With the availability of vaccinations, all sorts of testing (including rapid testing), and the ability for countries to still quarantine if absolutely necessary, modern science can prevent the spread of COVID-19 (including all the scary variants). All the travel bans are doing is indiscriminately keeping certain individuals from “coming to America”, which results in the continued separation of families, and employers from their employees.

As we come out on the other side of this global pandemic, it’s time that our State Department ramp up its consular operations and that we, thoughtfully and strategically, reopen our borders. Candidly, the presidential proclamations imposing travel bans have been nothing more than confusing, adding ridiculous complexity because of new, complicated, and always changing national interest exemptions (“NIE”) that are required so certain individuals can return to the U.S. sooner rather than later. It’s too much for families and employers to deal with, and frankly it’s just not necessary.

There are other things the government can do to ramp up consular operations and reopen our border,[1] even given the significant financial constraints it is under as a result of COVID-19, just as private business and industry adapted to their own unique circumstances over the last year. The time is now for our government to act.

Tags: President Biden, Pandemic, COVID-19, Travel Ban, Immigrant Visa.  Nonimmigrant Visa.


[1]See March 9, 2021 Foreign Press Center Briefing With Consular Affairs Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services, Julie M. Stufft on the Topic: Update on U.S. Immigrant Visa Processing at Embassies and Consulates, https://savediversityvisa.org/2021/03/10/update-on-u-s-immigrant-visa-processing-at-embassies-and-consulates/.

[2] The Trump administration suspended entry of many immigrants and nonimmigrants, separate and apart from COVID-19.  In addition, it imposed restrictions targeting certain countries and regions including China, Iran, Brazil, the Schengen Area, the U.K., Ireland, South Africa and India.  There have also been many consular-related COVID-19 protocols that dramatically reduced the number of staff and services in many consular posts across the world.

[3] For example, it can waive certain visa interviews (or do them virtually) so individuals need not go to an embassy or consulate in some circumstances; or it can extend certain visas for a defined period of time so individuals need not apply for new visas if they have to travel outside the U.S. or wish to come back.  There are many other opportunities for our government to leverage the vast resources it has available to it.