A lot of people stuck abroad have experienced panicking moments in the past two weeks when flights are cancelled and borders are closed due to the #COVID-19 shutdown. In March, 2020, the U.S. Department of State announced that immigrant (IV) and nonimmigrant visa (NIV) appointments at ALL Consulates are suspended due to coronavirus. Many countries are also restricting exiting and entering in order to control spread of the pandemic.
So what does this mean when my visa expires?
These travel restrictions have made family unity and returning to work difficult, if not impossible. Employers are now in the dark with no specific return date for their valued employees and facing uncertainties as to their future needs. Since many visas have a maximum period allowed pursuant to regulation, consular officers do not have the authority to extend visa validity. However, the consular may be able to re-print a visa once travel becomes possible.
Consulates are able to re-issue a new visa provided that all supporting documents, such as police certificates, medical examinations, etc., have not expired. If the supporting documents have expired, the applicant will be required to obtain new copies prior to the re-issuance of the new visa. Applicants will have to contact the consulate for the re-issuance and different consulate has different procedures.
For people who are stuck in the U.S. either on valid visas or during grace period, but are not able to leave the U.S. to return to their home countries, options are also limited. Many have applied to extend or change their status using the Form I-539, but this also comes with a hefty fee. Others are banking on the fact that a brief overstay won’t be too problematic if it is limited to 180 days.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has filed a complaint against USCIS calling for the immediate suspension of immigration benefit deadlines and the maintenance of status for nonimmigrants in the U.S. in light of the pandemic, urging USCIS to extend its filing deadlines so that lawfully present foreign nationals in the United States can maintain status during the pandemic.
While we wait for the outcome of this lawsuit, we urge everyone to stay tuned and take care of yourselves.