When Will The U.S. Consulates Open For Visa Services?
Many athletes and support staff are gearing up for their sport to resume competitions soon. During the hiatus, many spent the time off in their home countries and have now completed the filing of visa petitions which, upon approval, will allow them to apply for specific O or P visas at U.S. consulates. Those who remained in the U.S. may have been able to obtain extensions or changes of status without leaving the country. However, those individuals who are outside of the country must secure a visa appointment at a U.S. consulate to return. They are all asking, “When will the consulate reopen so I can get my visa?”
The short answer is-- “We don’t know.”
Given the lack of information from the Department of State (“DOS”) with regard to the resumption of visa services, DOS postings on passport services may offer a clue as to what lies ahead for visa services.
In a posting dated June 2, DOS states:
“We are planning to gradually reopen in three phases this summer as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomacy Strong plan, which follows guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for safely reopening.”
The provisions of “Diplomacy Strong” referencing the resumption of passport services at U.S. consulates appear relevant to visa services and suggest that consular staffing is still at a bare minimum, for at least two reasons:
The transfer of consular staff to new posts was on hold until just a week ago.
The Global Authorized and Ordered Departure processes approved for ‘At-Risk’ employees which permitted or directed key personnel to depart the countries where they were stationed.
DOS states that the cancellation of the Global Authorized and Ordered Departure processes will happen on a location-by-location basis when key conditions are met.
A member of an Emergency Action Committee (EAC) at a busy consular post wrote the following to an attorney:
“I don’t anticipate a return to normal services at most posts for quite some time. There is a working group pondering what ‘normal services’ will even look like. I just don’t see a return to the days of lines and crowded waiting rooms. Most facilities were already inadequate.”
Asked about the general progress of consular posts through Phases I–III, the EAC member wrote:
“Most of us are still stuck at zero. There’s going to have to be a good deal of guidance and operational adjustment before regular services resume. I assume it’s going to be emergency and mission critical for a while, then probably business, student, and exchange, then tourists. I seriously think it’s going to drag into late this year.”
An attorney and former consular EAC member, writes:
“I am a pessimist when it comes to the return of normal visa services and consular operations. There is a great deal of denial out there right now--people want to believe the disruptions caused by the pandemic will diminish and that the painfully slow resumption of normal life around the world will accelerate. Staffing has been hugely impacted by the shutdown--many posts are operating with skeleton staffs, and newly assigned junior officer personnel are not going to be arriving this summer the way they usually would. And the physical limitations of just about every consular section that I'm familiar with tells me that it is wishful thinking to conclude that the reopening of a section will mean a return to the same number of cases being adjudicated each day. It will be well into next year, I predict, before that is the case, and only if State manages to recruit and train enough new officers to handle the visa workloads.”
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So, what can one do to return to the U.S. to participate in their athletic competitions?
If you have a visa or ESTA approval and are in a country impacted by the travel ban, see the Acting DHS Secretary’s Order allowing for the return of certain athletes and staff and follow those directives which can be found here.
If you do not have a visa, go to the consulate’s website and schedule an appointment online. Then go to the link on the website used to request an expedited appointment. DOS indicates they do evaluate requests for expedited appointments through the online appointment system. However, they only process categories of non-immigrant visas that are considered mission critical.
I recommend that you contact your league or tour and ask if they can intervene to assert that your presence is “mission critical” to your sport.
Finally, you should monitor travel.state.gov for any announcements about worldwide visa services, and the status of specific consulates.
*Steven M. Ladik is past President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and represents numerous professional golfers on the LPGA Tour and PGA TOUR. He also serves as the outside Immigration Counsel to the National Football League. He is a Partner at Seltzer Chadwick Soefje & Ladik, PLLC. www.realclearcounsel.com