Immigration Impacts of the Coronavirus

            The World Health Organization (“WHO”) has declared that COVID-19, more commonly known as the coronavirus, is a “public health emergency of international concern.” While as of February 21, 2020, only 16 cases have been confirmed in the United States, John Hopkins had confirmed nearly 77,000 cases worldwide.[1] The concern over the virus has created major impacts to immigration, particularly to those that have visited China.

            On January 31, 2020, President Trump signed a declaration[2] suspending entry of all immigrants and nonimmigrants that were physically present in China during the 14-days prior to their entry.  This proclamation did not apply to US Citizens, permanent residents, and their families as well as other exceptions. However, those not precluded from entry that have been in China would be subject to health monitoring and possibly quarantine for up to 14 days. So for example, if you are on H-1B or an F-1 with a valid visa, and you visit China, and within 14 days from your time in China you try to enter the United States, you will not be permitted to enter the United States. Based on the instructions in the proclamation the H-1B or F-1 nonimmigrant would likely be prevented from even boarding an aircraft travelling to the United States. Currently the Department of State has issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory for China. Level 4 Travel Advisory mans the Department of State is saying “Do Not Travel” to China. Given the government’s warning and the risk of being prevented from being admitted, it is strongly advised you do not travel to China at this time.

            In addition to the issues facing those who have visited China, coronavirus is also impacting those who need to attend visa stamping in many of China’s US consulates. On January 23, 2020, the Department of State ordered the mandatory departure of all non-emergency US personnel from Wuhan, China. Later in January 2020, the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel from the rest of China. Because of this, USCIS has temporarily closed its field offices in Beijing and Guangzhou, and is working to reschedule all affected appointments. Additionally, the many of the personnel at the US Embassy in Beijing and the consulates in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenyang are either closed or operating with fewer employees.

Immigration Impacts and Measures to Take

            The biggest impact on immigration is if you are or have been physically in China. As mentioned earlier, the United States is suspending entry of all foreign nationals who have been in China within 14 days. US citizens, permanent residents, and their immediate family members who have been in China will likely be allowed to enter the US, but will be subject to health monitoring and potential quarantine.

            Those that are considering attending a US consulate in China for visa stamping should consider other options for their stamping. First, if you are attending a visa interview in China, you will be subject to the entry bar discussed above. Second, any visa processing at the US consulates in China is likely to be significantly slower than normal due to reduced staffing.  While it is generally recommended to attend your home country for initial stamping, other alternatives may have to be considered. For example, if you are going for initial H-1B stamping and have a US Master’s Degree, you are unlikely to face many issues going for your initial stamping in a different country.

            Employers and employees alike should be cognizant of the coronavirus impacts. Companies and their employees should seriously consider the potential impacts on reentry and employee health prior to sending employees to conduct work in China. Remember, due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Department of State has placed a Level 4 travel advisory on China. Only a small number of countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Mali, Central African Republic, Venezuela, Yemen, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, and Libya have Level 4 travel advisories like China.

            It is important to remember that the coronavirus situation is a fluid situation and can change at any moment. It is important to check with the Department of State, Center for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization prior to arranging any travel plans to and from China.

[1] https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6 (last visited Feb. 21, 2020).

[2] https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/proclamation-suspension-entry-immigrants-nonimmigrants-persons-pose-risk-transmitting-2019-novel-coronavirus/ (last visited Feb. 21, 2020).

By: Steven Brown

Steven Brown is an attorney in the firm's H-1B Department and represents our business clients throughout the entire H-1B, H-4, and H-4 EAD process. Additionally, Steven works with clients with Department of Labor Compliance included assistance with wage and hours investigations. Steven prides himself in being able to provide his clients with creative solutions to complex immigration problems.

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