[COLUMN] Information on the Embassy reopening

AS almost everyone is aware, the U.S. Embassy in Manila has not been issuing most immigrant visas since approximately March 2020 because of Covid-19 restrictions and the presidential proclamation, suspending visa issuance until April 2021. Here are some of the latest updates in connection with the Embassy reopening for immigrant visa processing:

1. The Embassy continues issuing immigrant visas for spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens, notwithstanding the presidential proclamation. Just last week, one of my clients, the spouse of a U.S. citizen, had her immigrant visa issued. She stated she was not required to undergo COVID-19 testing or vaccination for her visa to be issued. However, there is a requirement that all travelers to the U.S., even U.S. citizens, must provide a negative COVID-19 test to enter.

2. For minor children of U.S. citizens, the child’s biological age must be under 21. If their eligibility is based on the CSPA, they would still be subject to the presidential proclamation.

3. In terms of scheduling a visa interview, the U.S. Embassy will resume visa services as soon as possible, but cannot provide a specific date at this time. It is likely that after the presidential proclamation expires, there will still be social distancing restrictions and they will not be able to operate at full capacity. My client who was just issued a visa advised there are relatively few visa applicants at the Embassy, and she went in about 7 a.m. and was finished by 9:30 a.m. with her interview, which is fast, as sometimes a person is not finished until the afternoon.

4. The U.S. Embassy is still not processing K-1 fiancé(e) visa applications and cannot provide a specific date when K-1 visa processing will resume. If the validity period of the K-1 petition has expired, the consul will decide whether to revalidate it at the time of the interview. There is no need to contact the Embassy now about rescheduling interviews, expiration of petitions, or medical exam. Instead, we have to wait for further notices/information.

5. If a person’s medical exam has expired, the person must complete another medical exam at St. Luke’s. However, people should not reschedule their medical exam until they can reschedule their immigrant visa interview. Otherwise, the medical exam may expire before the resumption of visa services.

6. If a person was issued a 221(g) refusal, requiring them to submit additional documentation, but they were unable to do so within one year, they need to contact the U.S. Embassy to advise the Embassy of the difficulty in meeting the one-year deadline to avoid their case being terminated. Otherwise, send the documents to the Embassy via the 2GO courier, once they resume services and you can obtain the required documents.

7. The Embassy cannot extend the validity of anyone’s visa that is expiring. However, in some cases, the Embassy may be able to “replace” an expired visa, if the person can demonstrate that their inability to use the visa was due to circumstances beyond his/her control. It would appear that COVID-19 was beyond a person’s control.

8. If you are not contacted by the Embassy within 30 days after it resumes regular operations, you can contact the U.S. Embassy but only after routine services have resumed.

While the presidential proclamation will be expiring at the end of March 2021, it is obvious that the Embassy will need to provide further guidance and instructions on how people will be able to reschedule interviews, what the requirements may be, and other guidance.

Also, even after the presidential proclamation has expired, there may still be restrictions based on COVID-19. We will continue to keep you updated on any new developments because I know that there have been thousands of people affected by this shutdown, and are all eager to have their visas issued and be able to travel to the U.S.

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Michael J. Gurfinkel has been an attorney for over 40 years and is licensed, and an active member of the State Bars of California and New York. All immigration services are provided by, or under the supervision of, an active member of the State Bar of California. Each case is different and results may depend on the facts of the particular case. The information and opinions contained herein (including testimonials, “Success Stories,” endorsements and re-enactments) are of a general nature, and are not intended to apply to any particular case, and do not constitute a prediction, warranty, guarantee or legal advice regarding the outcome of your legal matter. No attorney-client relationship is, or shall be, established with any reader.

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