On March 19, 2020 the Department of State issued a Global Level 4 Health Advisory advising that U.S. citizens should avoid all international travel until further notice (updated March 31, 2020). Additionally, travel bans have been issued from countries around the world and continued measures in the coming weeks will have an impact non-immigrant visa renewals.
Employment-based visa types are quickly adapting to find ways to deal with the crisis, from posting electronic notices to meeting working from home requirements. Similarly, for those individuals who would typically renew their non-immigrant visa abroad (e.g. E-3, TN, L-1s, E-1/E-2s), alternative solutions should be considered.
If the individual is in the U.S. and has an upcoming expiration in the next 6 months:
Typically, employers file most E-3, TN, L-1s (Canadian citizens or Blanket Approvals), and E-1/E-2 petitions via Consular Processing wherever possible because this is, in normal circumstances, the more efficient and less risky way of processing a case.
However, given the current global travel restrictions, there is an option of filing upcoming visa renewal petitions with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This means the employee would be able to remain in the U.S. while their renewal petition is being processed.
In other words, the employee’s underlying stay and work authorization would be extended without them having to leave the U.S. However, the employee may still need to attend a visa interview to obtain an updated visa stamp abroad, the next time they travel internationally in order to enter the U.S.; if the existing one in their passport has expired.
Should an employer decide to pursue USCIS filings in lieu of consular processing:
- USCIS routinely adjudicates visa petitions with higher scrutiny than consulates, meaning the company will need to provide comprehensive and detailed evidence for each case. There is also the added concern of requests for evidence (RFEs). This may require some additional work on the front end when preparing petitions - it is strongly recommended to account for additional preparation time (add 2 - 4 weeks, depending on the case) then what is normally allotted.
- Premium Processing has been suspended for all USCIS filings, so please keep in mind that it will take a few months for a final decision to be issued. We don't anticipate this being problematic in terms of continuing work as employees would be permitted to continue working for up to 240 days from their previous expiration.
- USCIS filing fees will be required ($460.00 for the I-129 filing). If there are dependent filings, the corresponding filing fees will also be assessed.
Please note: legal counsel may recommend this for employees already in the U.S. on E-3, TN, L-1 (pursuant to a Blanket Approval), or E-1/E-2 visas. Filing via USCIS may not always be an efficient method for first-time applicants or employees currently outside the US.
If the employee is outside of the U.S. and is looking to renew their visa stamp:
Certain U.S. Consulates and Embassies abroad allow for the renewal of visa stamps via an “apply by mail” or “drop-box” option. Unfortunately, most U.S. Consulates or Embassies abroad have suspended the option to renew a visa stamp through an “apply by mail” service until further notice due to COVID-19.
You should check the applicable U.S. Consulate or Embassy website to confirm if you might qualify for this service, and for the most up-to-date information on U.S. Consulate or Embassy closures or discontinuation of certain services such as the “apply by mail” option.
It is recommended that once normal operations resume, employees look to see if they qualify for the apply by mail option, as it may be faster than trying to book a visa appointment.
It’s important to connect with your legal representative to determine the best course of action for how to move forward with your specific case.
Content in this publication is not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult a Bridge-affiliated partner attorney or another qualified legal professional.