On Wednesday, February 24, 2021, President Biden issued a Proclamation removing one of the few remaining major Trump COVID-era Visa Bans. The move repeals Presidential Proclamation 10014, which was set to expire after March 31, 2021, and temporarily paused the issuance of immigrant visas.  President Biden justified the action by explaining that the ban “harms the United States, including by preventing certain family members of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents from joining their families here. It also harms industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world.”

The move reinstates processing for all immigrant visa categories at U.S. Consulates and Embassies outside the U.S.  Immigrant visas are issued to noncitizens seeking to enter the U.S. permanently to receive green cards, as opposed to nonimmigrant visas, which are for those seeking to temporarily enter the U.S., at times for multiple years, in order to work, train, study, or visit, among other temporary activities.  Immigrants visas are now available across all categories, including employment-based, family-based, and others.

Issues Remain

Most immigrant visa applicants will still not see a quick resolution to their cases. Reversing the prior immigrant visa “freeze” will require an extended thawing process because visa processing remains closed or limited at most U.S. Consulates and Embassies and there is extensive backlog of immigrant visa applicants that has piled up over the past 10 months while the ban was in place. Most locations that have re-opened visa processing have done so in a severely limited manner, meaning there are likely to be extensive delays in scheduling immigrant visa interviews.

Most immigration advocates see President Biden’s action as insufficient because it does not overturn the ongoing nonimmigrant visa ban that continues to block many of the most important visa categories for temporary workers and trainees across the H-1B, J, L, and H-2B visa categories. The nonimmigrant ban is also set to expire after March 31, 2021, but could be lifted in advance as pressure continues to mount from immigrants groups and companies that rely on those visas to fill critical U.S. positions.

Further, COVID travel bans continue in place for individuals who have been physically present in one of the 35 banned countries (China, Iran, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Brazil, South Africa and the 29 countries in the European Schengen area) during the 14 days prior to their U.S. entry. Limited waivers are available for the nonimmigrant and COVID travel bans.

Department of State Guidance

The day following the Biden Administration’s announcement, the U.S. Department of State released implementation guidance for how lifting the immigrant visa ban will affect operations and applicants.

The guidance includes instructions for different categories of immigrant visa applicants (e.g., not yet interviewed v. previously refused) and discusses the ongoing resumption of visa services across all U.S. Embassies and Consulates across the globe. The Department of State released additional guidance on the phased resumption of routine visa services, including an FAQ section, at the same time.

We recommend that anyone in the immigrant visa process read the new guidance carefully and reach out to an experienced immigration attorney if questions remain.

Squire Patton Boggs will continue to monitor and provide updates on these developments. Please reach out to your SPB contacts if you require assistance.