Reopening America: How the Department of State can Reduce Delays and Eliminate Backlogs and Inefficiencies to Create a Welcoming America
BY: Sarah Salarano & Kyra Aviles
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of nonimmigrant visa and immigrant visa issuances. This reduction is due to several factors, including travel restrictions implemented by the Trump administration, as well as ongoing COVID-19 safety protocols which restrict international travel from certain countries and limit consular operations across the globe.
The following policy brief was provided to the President by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). Established in 1946, AILA is a nonpartisan, non-profit organization whose members practice and teach immigration law. Association members provide legal education, information, professional services, and proficiency through their 36 chapters and over 50 national committees.1 In this brief, AILA presents several policies that the Department of State (DOS) can wield to ensure efficiency against visa backlogs and other obstructions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are some highlights:
Recommendations to Eliminate Pandemic-Related Consular Backlogs
Resume stateside processing of visa renewals
The Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services at the DOS is authorized to renew nonimmigrant visas from within the US, and has done so in the past for the following categories: C, E, H, I, L, O, and P. Reinstituting stateside nonimmigrant visa renewals would alleviate the backlogs at consular posts overseas while simultaneously creating more jobs in the US.
Automatically extend visas that have expired during the COVID-19 global pandemic by 24 months
When the COVID-19 pandemic first struck, many individuals were unable to travel to the US. As such, their visas may have expired. With a valid I-797 notice from USCIS or a valid DS-2019 or I-20, these individuals should be allowed to enter the US on expired documentation. There is a precedent for permitting expired documentation, as the DOS allows travel on recently expired documents and the DHS Customs and Border Protection allows legal permanent residents to return on certain expired forms.
Revise regulations to allow virtual immigrant and nonimmigrant visa interviews
The DOS indicates their intent to establish a temporary rule allowing the waiver of certain in-person appearance and oath requirements for immigrant visa applicants. In order to address the substantial backlog while minimizing physical contact, AILA suggests that the DOS reassess the current regulations to approve virtual interviews for initial nonimmigrant applicants and allow staff from anywhere to conduct interviews safely.
Recommendations to Leverage Interagency Coordination with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to Maximize Efficiency and Eliminate Unnecessary Visa Processing
Admit all US lawful permanent residents (LPRs) returning to the US from abroad without conducting an abandonment analysis if they last departed the United States on or after December 31, 2019, or who had a valid reentry permit on that date and discourage SB-1 returning resident visa applications.
Recommendation to Limit the Impact of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic on Visa Issuance and Ensure that DOS Is Adequately Funded to Perform Necessary Work to Return to Pre-Pandemic Levels of Service
Recapture and avoid the loss of unallocated visas
The visa backlog has grown so severe that it is probable that hundreds of thousands of immigrant visas may be permanently lost. DOS must recapture those visas, and Congress should ensure that unused IVs are properly allocated and not wasted.
To read the full list of proposals and exposition from AILA, please find the complete policy brief below.AILA-Brief
About the Authors:
Sarah Salarano is a paralegal at Mona Shah & Associates Global. She graduated from Emory University in December 2020 with a degree in Political Science and English.
Kyra Aviles is a paralegal at Mona Shah & Associates Global. She graduated from Oberlin College in May 2021 with a degree in Political Science and Law & Society.