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COVID-19 Travel Ban – What you need to know

Late in the evening of April 20, 2020, President Trump announced by Tweet that he would be stopping all immigration to the U.S. due to the COVID-19 crisis. Two days later an executive order or “proclamation” was signed. I’ll be updating this post as we learn more to answer your questions about what this new announcement means for you.

[Last updated April 22, 2020 @ 2100 hrs PST]

Who does this apply to?

Most importantly, the ban applies only to folks trying to immigrate permanently to the United States. It doesn’t apply to temporary visas like B-2 visitors or H-1B workers.

The following green card applicants are subject to the temporary suspension:

  1. You are outside the United States as of April 23, 2020;
  2. You do not have a valid immigrant visa on April 23, 2020; and
  3. You do not have a valid official travel document (such as a transportation letter, boarding foil, or advance parole document) that permits travel to the United States to seek entry or admission.

Are there any exceptions?

Yes! There are lot of exceptions. The most important one for our clients is that spouses of U.S. citizens are exempt. Here’s the list:

  • Lawful permanent residents (LPR)
  • Individuals and their spouses or children seeking to enter the U.S. on an immigrant visa as a physician, nurse, or other healthcare professional to perform work essential to combatting, recovering from, or otherwise alleviating the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak (as determined by the Secretaries of State and Department of Homeland Security (DHS), or their respective designees)
  • Individuals applying for a visa to enter the U.S. pursuant to the EB-5 immigrant investor visa program.
  • Spouses of U.S. citizens.
  • Children of U.S. citizens under the age of 21 and prospective adoptees seeking to enter on an IR-4 or IH-4 visa.

(The following categories are in the order but won’t apply to many folks).

  • Individuals who would further important U.S. law enforcement objectives (as determined by the Secretaries of DHS and State based on the recommendation of the Attorney General (AG), or their respective designees).
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their spouses and children.
  • Individuals and their spouses or children eligible for Special Immigrant Visas as an Afghan or Iraqi translator/interpreter or U.S. Government Employee (SI or SQ classification).
  • Individuals whose entry would be in the national interest (as determined by the Secretaries of State and DHS, or their respective designees).

Does the ban apply to adjustment/I-485 applicants?

No! The executive order applies only to folks outside of the United States. If you were about to – or have already – applied for adjustment of status then you can still proceed. Remember, however, that local offices remain closed and so you case is going to be delayed, just like everyone else.

What should I do if I was about to file an immigration application/petition?

If you were about to file, you should do so. The order does not seem to prohibit the agencies from accepting petitions or applications. Those are processed on a first-come/first-serve basis. So even if you are subject to the ban, go ahead and get your case started.

Does the ban apply to non-immigrants?

No. But the Department of labor has a month to make a recommendation as to whether the ban should be extended.

What’s the bottom line?

In my opinion, this order is mostly sound and fury. As signed today, it will have little impact. Why? Because most green card applications are paused anyway right now. Consulates are closed to most appointments because of the virus. That’s not a political issue, by the way, but a decision taken by the extremely competent professionals at the State Department. I expect that the consulate closure will last more or less as long as 60 days, so the executive order basically changes nothing.

My view – and I’m not the only immigration lawyer saying this – is that the order is simply a political move. This is the President trying to lash out and focus the rage about our current situation on foreigners rather than deal with the health crisis in our country.

From a practical standpoint, all of my consular processing clients are stuck in limbo anyway, so the order changes nothing. My main concern is that two months down the line it might look politically attractive to Trump to extend this order for the same reason it was implemented – to shift focus from the real crisis.

But for now I say let’s have some perspective. This has little practical effect.

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Greg is recognized as the leading national authority on enforcement of the Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. Greg represents low-income green card holders in lawsuits to recover support from their sponsors. Practicing family-based immigration law, Greg also focuses on helping married and engaged couples with U.S. immigration.

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