On April 22, 2020, President Trump issued a Proclamation that prevents certain individuals with immigrant visas from entering the United States beginning April 24, 2020. The proclamation is valid for 60 days, or June 23, 2020.
The proclamation targets both employment-based and family-based immigrant visas. The proclamation does not affect immigrant visa processing for anyone in the United States. Individuals who are currently in the US and are eligible for permanent residency should continue to apply. The proclamation also does not affect non-immigrant visas or the entry of any non-immigrant visa holders to the US. It does, however, require a review of non-immigrant programs to be conducted within 30 days, so restrictions for travel under a non-immigrant visa is likely in the near future.
The Proclamation only applies to immigrant visas issued on or after April 24, 2020. Individuals with immigrant visas issued prior to April 24, 2020, may still use that visa to enter the US during the suspension period.
For immigrant visas issued on or after April 24, 2020, the proclamation directs the Department of State (DOS) to immediately suspend the entry of immigrants into the US in two broad categories. All employment-based immigrant visas are suspended, except in the EB-5 investor category and those performing work in the medical field. All family-based immigrant visas are suspended, except those for spouses and unmarried children under 21 of US citizens. This means that all family preference category visas are suspended, including visas for parents of US citizens, spouses and children of permanent residents, and adult children of US citizens.
While the Proclamation seems highly restrictive, it comes during a time when the immigration process for most cases abroad had already come to a standstill. Most US Embassies had already stopped conducting any visa interviews due to the pandemic, with no indication as to when they would resume. The Northern and Southern borders of the US are currently closed through May 22. The concern with the Proclamation going forward, however, is that it may give anti-immigration hardliners in the administration the opportunity to continue to prevent legal immigration indefinitely. Although the suspension is initially for 60 days, it can be extended.
The President argues that the restrictions are needed to protect American jobs. Given the current shutdowns and the likelihood that they will last through the end of May, the reasoning falls flat. Immigrant visas have already been effectively curtailed through the shutdowns. More importantly, because of the shutdowns, many jobs have been cut. It is hard to understand what jobs legal immigrants are going to take, when 22 million workers have filed for unemployment since March. On average, only about 40,000 immigrant visas are issued each month. The President is using the pandemic to scapegoat legal immigrants for the administrations mishandling of the crisis.
It is important to keep in mind that the Proclamation only affects processing by the DOS, which handles visa issuance overseas. It does not affect any functions performed by USCIS or other agencies in the US. Petitions, both employment-based and family-based, can and should continue to be filed with USCIS as that agency continues to adjudicate those petitions. Immigrants must continue to persist in pursuing their legal rights to lawfully enter and live in the United States. Families will continue to seek to be united with their loved ones, and employers will continue to seek talented immigrants to fill open job positions.
If you have not started the petition process, it is vital to move forward at this time. USCIS processing times are nine months to one year for most petitions, so it is likely that when the petition is approved, the suspensions will have expired. If you are currently waiting for the approval of an already filed visa petition, that process will continue unaffected by this proclamation. The most impact will be felt by those whose petitions have been approved and are only waiting for an immigrant visa appointment at the consulate. Immigrant visa appointments (except in those limited exceptions noted above) will not be moving forward until at least the end of June.
If you are affected by this Proclamation, or believe that you may be, please contact our office to receive an individualized consultation.