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U.S. Travel and Immigration Restrictions Related to the Covid-19 Crisis

Due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, travel to the United States and the possibility to get a U.S. visa or to extend an existing visa, including an employment visa, are currently severely limited. Which restrictions apply?

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The following information is current as of April 24, 2020 and subject to change. It is general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult with an immigration lawyer if you have specific questions regarding your own situation.

  • The Presidential Proclamation of March 11, 2020 de facto prohibits most Swiss citizens, as well as citizens of most other European countries, from traveling to the United States. The proclamation does not apply to Swiss citizens who are Legal Permanent Residents (“Green Card” holders) or certain close family members of U.S. Citizens or Legal Permanent Residents. It also does not apply to diplomatic personnel and employees of certain international organizations or to health care professionals who work on issues related to Covid-19. It is not expected that these travel restrictions will be lifted before the end of May or June 2020.
  • The U.S. Embassy in Bern, like most U.S. diplomatic posts around the world, currently does not grant any regular appointments for the purposes of obtaining new U.S. visas or the extension of existing U.S. visas. Under certain limited circumstances emergency appointments may be available. Regular appointments won’t be available before June 2020.
  • The Presidential Proclamation of April 22, 2020 has, for at least 60 days, suspended the entry of immigrants to the U.S. who are considered to present a risk to the U.S. labor market. This proclamation halts the issuance of immigrant visas to certain beneficiaries of immigrant petitions (including immigrant petitions filed by an employer) but provides for exceptions for certain close family members of U.S. citizens (spouses, children) as well as for investors under the EB-5 program. The order only applies to individuals who are currently outside of the United States. Individuals who are already in the United States applying for a Green Card (so called “adjustment of status”) are not affected. Furthermore, these restrictions only apply to immigrant visas. Non-immigrant visas, such as the visitor visa B-1/B-2 or the work visas H-1B, L-1, E-1, E-2, O-1, J-1, etc., are not included under this presidential proclamation, although the proclamation notes that certain restrictions on non-immigrants may be instituted at a later point in time.
  • Swiss citizens who want to work in the U.S. based on an H-1B, L-1, or O-1 visa have to take into account that USCIS, the U.S. immigration agency, has suspended expedited processing on visa petitions for these categories. The approval of such a petition is a prerequisite for the issuance of a visa at a consulate. The processing of a visa petition will now take several months instead of a few weeks. This applies both to petitions for new visas as well as to extensions. In very rare cases USCIS may still expedite a petition based on a hardship.

General recommendations:

  • Do not try to travel to United States unless you are authorized to do so. The U.S. government is strictly enforcing all travel restrictions. Even the attempt to violate any travel restrictions may have severe consequences for future visa applications.
  • Plan ahead: The process to apply for a new visa or to extend an existing visa can currently easily take six months or longer.
  • If you are currently in the U.S. on a work visa, such as an H-1B, L-1, E-1, E-2, or O-1, you may be eligible for an extension of status, i.e. you may be able to extend your legal status while staying in the U.S. and you may be granted an automatic 240-day extension even if your application for extension has not yet been approved.
  • If you are currently in the U.S. on an E-1 or E-2 visa be sure to also check online for the expiration date of your I-94. The I-94 may be valid beyond the expiration date of your visa, which means that you can remain and continue to work in the U.S. until the date listed on the I-94, even if your visa has expired.  

Please refer to the US embassy in Bern webpage before making any final travel plans.

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