Trying to do anything normal in the United States, whether it's working, traveling, or seeing friends and family, has become challenging during many months, and now years, of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. That raises a critical question for anyone hoping to obtain a U.S. visa (permanent or temporary), possibly to do the same sorts of things: Is doing so still possible?
The situation changes day by day, but let's go over some of the basics.
For travelers from several countries, travel to the U.S. is prohibited. This list changes regularly, as different countries become COVID hot spots. None of these country-based prohibitions include U.S. lawful permanent residents (green card holders).
Nevertheless, that doesn't solve any problems for people just now in the process of obtaining immigrant visas. Such visas lead to permanent residence, but you don't actually become a permanent resident until you set foot, with official permission, in the United States. In effect, the entry exception for green card holders works only for those returning to the U.S., not coming for their first time as a new immigrant.
Even for travelers who aren't affected by country restrictions, proof of COVID vaccination and negative disease status is required for those flying in from international locations, as well as for people entering on the southern and northern U.S. borders.
The COVID-19 vaccine is also now among the ones that immigrant visa applicants must receive as part of the required vaccine series.
It remains possible to submit applications for U.S. immigration benefits to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of State (DOS) and related agencies. Most functions were already routinely handled by mail or online, as they will continue to be going forward.
The various U.S. government agencies are always delayed in their processing, however, and are now even more delayed given the health needs of their staff and slowdowns in societal functioning. Don't expect decisions to come quickly.
The more significant issue is that eventually, your application will likely require one or more in-person meetings before the government makes a final visa or green card decision. That's described next.
No matter what you're applying for within the U.S., such as asylum or adjustment of status to get a green card, it will involve one or more in-person appointments or interviews with officials of the U.S. government. In fact, the Trump Administration added categories of applicants (such as employment-based adjustment of status seekers) who are required to attend personal interviews though they wouldn't have had to in the past.
At a more prosaic level, many applications require providing fingerprints and photo (biometrics), which is almost impossible to do without showing up in person.
Many of these offices were closed for a time, but are by and large reopened as of late 2021. Still, the U.S. government was able to develop workarounds for some in-person meetings; for instance, USCIS said that people renewing their work permits (on Form I-765) would no longer have to show up for a biometrics appointment if USCIS is able to use their biometric data from a past application. Such measures could be brought back if, for example, a new variant made in-person interviews risky.
The fact that USCIS offices have reopened, however, doesn't mean that things are back to normal. You will want to carefully read through any instructions you receive regarding precautions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Be ready, for example, to wear a mask that meets government requirements.
If you receive any sort of appointment and have any possible COVID-19 symptoms, you are of course asked to reschedule.
If you're overseas and applying for a visa to the U.S. (whether a temporary/nonimmigrant visa or an immigrant visa for permanent residence), check with the consulate that provides such services to your region before you attempt to visit. Most consulates have reopened, but you might face limitations on appointments, and priority given to applicants in emergency/urgent situations.
Again, if you receive a consular appointment and have any possible COVID-19 symptoms, you should reschedule.
Other types of visas might depend on attending college (F-1) or starting a job, but if the school or workplace is currently closed to in-person learning, that will make approval problematic.
With luck, however, you might eventually be able to attend the consular appointment and receive visa approval, then or soon after.
Some types of visas allow U.S. entry only within a limited time window, such as the 90-day K-1 fiancé visa. If that time passes and you haven't been able to make the trip to the U.S. for reasons related to the pandemic, the consulate might be able to extend the visa. You'll need to provide assurances or proof that you're still just as eligible for it as before, however.
The U.S. immigration response to the coronavirus situation is changing constantly. We will attempt to keep this article updated, as you should continue to follow the news and be alert for changes relevant to your application.