May 7, 2020:
Updated Travel and Visa Renewal Considerations Amid COVID-19 Involving the US Embassy in Stockholm
By: Annette Gustafsson Guenther, Principal Attorney at Law Offices A.E. Gustafsson, P.C.
This serves as an update to the summary previously posted on the above topic on March 20, 2020. Since then, not much has changed. Many of our clients are struggling with planning for the summer, a time of the year when foreign nationals working in the U.S. on a nonimmigrant work visa (e.g. E-1, E-2, L-1A, L-1B, H-1B) make plans to travel back to their home country to vacation and simultaneously renew visas. Overseas companies and new international transferees also make plans to apply for visas with the goal of having them granted timely to allow travel to the U.S. before schools start in August/September. The lingering presence of COVID-19 continues be a challenge for planning ahead.
As to those people working in the U.S. based on Treaty Trader (E-1) or Treaty Investor (E-2) visas waiting for company treaty approvals, the U.S. Embassy’s Consular Section continue to accept new and renewal company treaty applications, although we have been told review and processing of these applications are not a priority at this time.
It is our understanding also that the Consular section continues to be working with a reduced staffing level and that they are not scheduling visa interviews at this time and “…will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time”. This is a change from the prior posting, stating no visa processing through the month of May.
Given the above information, those affected should keep the following in mind:
• Processing times for company treaty applications up until COVID-19 hit us, averaged around 30 to 60 days (October through April).
• In the past several years, during the period May through September, processing times have increased to 90 to
120 days for company treaty applications. That was before COVID-19 and the Embassy slow-down.
• The Embassy is still at this time per se accepting company treaty applications, from what we have been informed. However, one should anticipate and plan for a slower than normal pace of review. The reason is simple. First, the consular section is currently operating with a reduced staffing level. Secondly, review of treaty applications has been classified as a low priority. In view of this, it is difficult to see how processing times will not increase. I hope I am wrong, but I would not be surprised if processing times double, compared to what has been typical in the past, perhaps even up to 5 to 6 months throughout the summer and into early fall.
I would urge anyone planning to submit a new or renewal company treaty trader or investor application at the US Embassy in Stockholm this spring or in the summer, to plan for the worse in terms of processing time and submit company treaty applications well in advance of any target transfer date for an employee. Additionally, scheduling a visa interview during the summer of 2020 may become more competitive than normal, with the rush that likely will follow once the Embassy opens up for scheduling.
Clearly, “Planning ahead” continues to be challenging in 2020.
As to specifically the President’s updated Proclamation 9993 of March 11, 2020, , “Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus”, there has been no indication to date of the travel ban being suspended or cancelled, putting many people in a tough position. The reality is that anyone who leaves the U.S. at this time and until the travel ban has been lifted, unless specifically exempted from the travel ban, based on the President’s Proclamation issued on March 11, 2020, will not be allowed back into the U.S., if they have been present in the Schengen countries and the UK within the 14 day period before entering. The ban remains in place until the President terminates it, so an indefinite period of time. While one would hope the ban will be terminated or eased by June, given the COVID-19 outbreak remains active, I would be pleasantly surprised if it was lifted in June.
Finally, keep in mind that there are exceptions for who is subject to the travel ban, among them:
1. “Green card” holders;
2. A non-US citizen who is married to a US citizen or a “green card” holder;
3. A non-US citizen who is a parent to a US citizen or GC holder, provided the US citizen or green card holder is unmarried and under the age of 21;
4. People who have a sibling who is a US citizen or green card holder, provided both are under the age of 21 years and unmarried.
In sum, anyone departing the U.S. at this time might want to make plans for and anticipate having to remain outside the U.S. for a
while, as a “worst case scenario” plan. I certainly hope, things will ease up in June, but the reality is that we just do not know at this point and time.