It's sometimes helpful to hear stories and anecdotes from people all over the world and their adventures dealing with the current global crisis, renewing visas, and living as an expat in the United States. It grounds things for you and can answer some questions that you might have had yourself.
Jon, a friend of America Josh, and a former corporate lawyer who now manages operations for a legal technology startup in New York, just recently gave this a shot himself and wanted to talk to everyone through what he did and what his plan moving forward is. Over to Jon!
Long (hopefully helpful) visa thread incoming.
In the past two days, I’ve flown to Barbados, had my visa appointment canceled, dealt with the US consulate and received advice from a law firm on my next steps. I wanted to share my experience here so that people going through a similar situation and/or who cannot get law firm advice have a reference point.
I flew to Barbados on Tuesday for a scheduled visa interview on Wednesday. My visa expiry date is April 22. On arriving in Barbados I called the consulate to check it was open and was told the embassy was closing indefinitely from Wednesday and that all routine visa appointments (including E-3s) have been canceled. The embassy could not confirm when they would re-open or when I would be able to reschedule an appointment.
Given that ($^%^) news, I went to the embassy to see if I could get an emergency appointment before they closed Tuesday afternoon. Security would not let me in but they did put me on the phone to a consulate official. I explained my situation — that my visa is expiring, my life is in the US and I need to get back — and I was advised that my only available option was to send an email to the non-immigrant visa section of the consulate to request an emergency appointment. If successful, that appointment would be in Barbados.
I prepared an email outlining my reasons for wanting an emergency appointment but given I only got one shot at it my employer wanted to run the email by a law firm before submitting it.
The following morning (Wednesday) I had a conference call with a large immigration law firm in New York. The advice, in summary, was this:
- I could try and request an emergency appointment in Barbados but I may not hear back for a few days and there is a near-certain chance that it would be denied. The US is closing (or has closed) visa processing at embassies globally and given the tone of US government statements, public health in the US is the only priority, processing a non-immigrant E-3 visa is not. I also could not fly elsewhere to get my renewal due to the closure of visa processing globally (e.g. Australia, Mexico, Canada — all are closed for visa processing).
- Given that, and given the rapid pace of developments relating to the coronavirus, the advice was that I should get back to the US as soon as possible (i.e. get the next flight, don’t wait.) There is every chance that countries shut down their borders in the coming days (like Peru) and I would be stuck. Better to be in the US than out so that I have options. I took a flight back to the US yesterday.
- From back in the US, given my visa expiry date is coming up (April 22) the recommended course of action is for me to apply to extend my E-3 visa status by filing a Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker) directly with the USCIS Vermont from within the US. This is not as ideal as getting your visa renewed in another country (the current internal processing time for extensions in Vermont is 2.5 to 4 months, though that may increase given the travel bans and an increase in the number of applicants within the US), but by filing the extension I will be able to stay in the US and continue to work until the earlier of 240 days or until a decision is rendered on my renewal. During that time I will not be able to leave and return to the US under my current visa, which is OK given that not much international travel is anticipated in the near future, but I will still have my passport in case of an emergency. The USCIS does not require that to process the extension.
- If an emergency does happen and I need to go back to Australia or elsewhere outside the US, I can do so while the extension is being processed (I will still have my passport), however, I will need to apply for a new E-3 visa at an embassy outside the US before I will be let back into the country. If I get past the typically 2.5 to 4 month processing period and I still don’t have my extension, after a certain date (around the 4-month mark) I can lodge a special request to find out what’s happening with my application which may expedite the process.
- In the worst-case scenario where I am here towards the end of the 240 day period and I still don’t have my renewal, I can leave the country and apply for a new E-3 visa outside the US to get let back in. Given the unprecedented nature of the times we’re in, the USCIS may also extend the 240-day grace period (who knows), but the real benefit of all of this is that it will buy me time to stay in the US.
Based on the above, my company will be filing an extension application in the coming days so that I can stay past my April 22 expiry date. I realize not everyone has access to or the ability to pay a lawyer to file that extension, but that is the advice I was given so I wanted to share so people can be informed and make some decisions.
Hopefully, it’s helpful.
Stay safe out there.
If you're looking for advice or information about the impact of Coronavirus on Expats, be sure to check out our page dedicated to assisting those in need of information at americajosh.com/corona.