I’m getting a lot of questions from people about how the corona virus Covid-19 is going to impact people who are abroad and who are seeking to enter the US with immigrant visas.
Before we get into the questions, I want to say that I hope you’re well and safe and that you’re practicing social distancing. That’s the only way we can defeat this virus until a vaccine or treatments are available. I’m doing my part. I’m working from home. My family is here. We’re well, we’re safe, we’re healthy, and I hope you are too.
How I help people
In case you don’t know me, I’m Josh Goldstein, an immigration lawyer in Los Angeles. I help people across the country and around the world get their visas out of administrative processing I do that by suing U.S. consulates around the world. I file mandamus lawsuits to help people whose visas have been stuck and who have been experiencing a really frustrating delay.
A new complication
But now there’s a new complication and that is that covid-19 and the coronavirus have made it so that it may not be possible to fly to the US. Maybe airlines service will be shut down or restricted. Maybe this virus interferes with the issuance of visas.
And the specific question that I’m getting is what happens if you get a visa and the visa is good for a specific validity date but you’re unable to travel before the expiration of that validity date. That’s the question I want to answer today.
How it normally works
Normally what happens is that you have a medical exam as part of the immigrant visa process and then the consulate issues you an immigrant visa which they send you in a sealed package through a courier service.
It typically arrives at your house within five days of issuance. Each consulate has a slightly different protocol for how this works, but this is generally the approach.
So you get a sealed packet. It’s got the visa in it and the visa is good for six months, for 180 days. And that 180-day period extends from the date of your medical exam.
What if you can’t travel before the deadline?
If you’re unable to travel to the US and seek admission within the validity date of your visa before it expires, i.e., you cannot come to the US before the visa expires, you have to contact the consulate and ask to extend the validity date of the visa.
The Foreign Affairs manual, which is the operating procedure for consular officers, gives the consulates great latitude to grant these requests. In my career, I’ve had a handful of these requests and they’ve routinely been granted. It hasn’t been a big deal, but you have to explain why you’re unable to travel during that time period and you need a pretty compelling reason.
The challenge to communicate
The problem comes now with covid-19. Even in the best of circumstances, it’s extremely difficult to communicate with some of these consulates. You send them an email, you try to communicate with them, but they don’t really get back to you. They don’t communicate well in these regards.
How I may be able to help
When I file a mandamus lawsuit we have direct access to the consulates because we’re working with the US Attorney’s Office because we have litigation going on. That makes it much easier to solve problems like this. If you’re having trouble extending your visa, I can email the US Attorney’s Office and they usually can get back to me and fix these sorts of problems.
These are uncertain times. I’m not quite sure how things are going to work, but those are my thoughts on things right now. I don’t think extending the validity date of an immigrant visa is going to be a huge challenge.
If you have more questions or you need help, please get in touch with me and I’ll do my best to answer your questions and help you out.