We now have the exact date that international travel to the United States will reopen for vaccinated visitors – November 8 – which means companies will have an easier time bringing in trade visitors and employees. But in some cases, the immigration nightmare will continue for employers, depending on the citizenship and residence of any non-citizen visitor or employee. What do employers need to know about the October 15 announcement, and what should you do in the coming weeks to prepare?
Business trips open to vaccinated on November 8
Starting November 8, travelers will be able to enter the United States by showing full proof of vaccination before boarding their overseas flights and a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than three days before departure. As we reported earlier, improved contact search and masking will also be required, but there will be no quarantine requirement.
This is great news for employers wishing to invite trade visitors from currently prohibited countries to the United States (the United Kingdom and Ireland, the 26 countries of the Schengen area, Brazil, China, India, Iran and South Africa) and to accommodate employees with approved employment. visas from these countries. From the start of 2020 until now, non-national travelers who were otherwise completely legal to come to the United States have often found themselves barred from traveling unless they can obtain “interest relief.” national ”(NIE) at a US embassy or consulate. Obtaining NIEs was a haphazard process, with some consulates and embassies operating with significant delays, and some more stingy with NIE approvals than others. Businesses will now be able to put the NIE nightmare behind them when it comes to those vaccinated.
What vaccines will be accepted?
A key issue that will need to be addressed includes which vaccines the United States government will recognize. It has been reported that the United States will accept vaccines that have been approved by the FDA and those that have been approved by the WHO for emergency use. According to CDC spokesperson Caitlin Shockey, “To help them prepare their systems, the CDC has informed airlines that vaccines authorized / approved by the FDA or listed for emergency use by the WHO will meet the criteria for travel to the United States ”.
The FDA and WHO have approved Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. The WHO has approved the Oxford / Astrazenica AZD1222 vaccine for emergency use, as well as the Oxford / Astrozenica formulation from the Serum Institute of India’s Covishield. WHO has also approved BBIBP-CorV and Sinovac CoronaVac vaccines from Sinopharm (Beijing). We will continue to monitor the list of acceptable vaccines and update this Insight when the government makes an official announcement.
What proof of vaccination will be used?
Another currently unanswered question concerns what forms of proof of vaccination the United States will accept. There is no doubt that immigration authorities will put measures in place to detect and prevent the use of fraudulent vaccination records, but as of yet we do not have detailed information on how the process works. certification. Check back as this Insight will be updated when more information is received.
State Department faces huge backlog of visa applications
But that’s not all good news for employers who work with immigrants and foreign nationals as part of their workforce or as business partners. Significant obstacles remain before things can be considered business as usual.
By default, to come to the United States, foreign nationals must first obtain a visa. For business and leisure travelers of certain nationalities, the visa requirement is waived. This exemption program is known as ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). Some 40 countries participate in ESTA, which means that citizens of these countries can come to the United States for business or pleasure without first obtaining a B-1 or B-2 visa. The only requirement is to register for ESTA online, pay a fee and obtain ESTA authorization before traveling.
For citizens of countries that do not participate in ESTA, they must apply for a B-1 visa (business visitor), which involves consular processing. Likewise, if a non-US citizen has been offered employment in the US, has obtained the approval of a work visa (H-1B, L-1 or other) from USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Service), or looking to process their visa application at a U.S. embassy or consulate, there are steps they must take. In most cases, they have to schedule a visit to the embassy or consulate, sit down for an interview with an officer, and wait a few days to collect their passport with a visa stamp.
Currently, depending on the embassy or consulate, getting an interview appointment can range from a few days, to a few weeks, to even a few years. According to Travel.State.Gov, the wait time for an appointment in Tokyo for all visa types is one day. Rio De Janeiro, on the other hand, has a waiting time of 999 days for visitor visas and other nonimmigrant visas, which means these visa appointments are issued for emergencies only. Anecdotal stories of people in India with valid H-1B approvals from USCIS have been told they will have to wait until 2022 for an interview, while the United States Embassy in Sarajevo, per example, issue B-1 visa appointments for 2023.
The State Department reports that in September 2021, its backlog for people seeking visas was around 470,000. For comparison, in calendar year 2019 on average, 60,866 applicants were waiting. scheduling a maintenance each month.
According to the State Department:
Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected the State Department’s ability to process immigrant visa applications. U.S. Embassies and Consulates are working to resume routine, place-to-place visa services as quickly and safely as possible. However, the pandemic continues to severely affect the number of visas that our embassies and consulates abroad are able to process. Specific constraints vary depending on local conditions and restrictions, but include local and national blockages; travel restrictions; host country quarantine regulations; and the steps our embassies and consulates are taking to contain the spread of COVID-19.
It doesn’t look like the visa interview backlog is going to be reduced anytime soon. Some people can get visa appointments by visiting U.S. consulates in other countries, while others look for earlier appointment dates by requesting an emergency review, but none of these options are guaranteed to be successful. Indeed, more and more consulates are closing their doors to third-country nationals, choosing instead to focus on citizens and residents of the countries in which they are located. And as the backlog worsens, emergency appointments are increasingly difficult to obtain.
Unless the government takes urgent and immediate action to address the backlog of visa appointments, U.S. businesses will find that some key business visitors and newly hired overseas employees will be virtually stranded in their home country for many months or even years.
What should you do
At this point, companies planning to invite international visitors to the United States, whether on a work visa or for business meetings, should immediately begin encouraging non-citizens to begin the vaccination process as soon as possible. now in anticipation of the new rules coming into force in November. They should make sure to get one of the WHO-approved vaccines listed above, and they should keep their proof of vaccination in a safe place, just as they would with their passport and other important documents.
Since a business visitor or employee with a USCIS approval needs an appointment with a United States embassy or consulate to obtain a visa, encourage them to make an appointment as soon as possible. . Even if the date is for an unreasonably distant date in the future, ask them to agree to this date. Work with an immigration lawyer to secure an emergency appointment with the consulate.
The same arguments that applied to NIE claims should be made again. Describe how essential the foreign national’s position and talents are to your business. Provide information on the harms, both economic and operational, that would result if the foreign national could not come to the United States to perform their work (as opposed to remote work). Most importantly, explain the potential damage to critical infrastructure in the United States that would occur if the foreign national was unable to make it to the country.