Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.
“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”
I sponsored my fiancé for a K-1 visa last year right before the pandemic. Unfortunately, the consulate canceled my fiancé’s visa interview and he hasn’t yet been able to get his visa.
Now that travel restrictions to the United States have been lifted, what’s the status of visa interviews?
— Pining in Pittsburgh
Thanks for reaching out to me with your question. While theoretically love knows no bounds, the U.S. immigration system can sometimes assert otherwise. We are saddened to hear that you and your fiancé have been separated for so long! We have many clients in your situation, which we recently chatted about on the 100th episode of “Immigration Law for Tech Startups.” Rest assured, we’re beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
As always, I recommend consulting with an immigration attorney for specific guidance — every situation is different based on where you and your fiancé are located, and immigrants often say it’s very helpful to have an attorney throughout the K-1 visa process to answer questions and guide you, as well as to support with the adjustment of status process once you and your fiancé are married.
The good news is that starting in January 2022, all U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) personnel will be back in USCIS offices, working to get through the backlogs and reduce processing times that increased substantially during the pandemic. Abroad, however, cases and interviews at the State Department will likely continue to face delays. Many U.S. embassies and consulates remained closed, and those that have reopened have huge backlogs to work through.
How quickly your fiancé will be able to schedule a visa interview will depend on the embassy or consulate and what cases have priority at that embassy or consulate. After the Biden administration lifted the older COVID-related travel bans on November 8, the U.S. Department of State announced that embassies and consulates “have broad discretion to determine how to prioritize visa appointments among the range of visa classes as safely as possible, subject to local conditions and restrictions.” My sources tell me that the Biden administration is working hard to provide resources and rebuild infrastructure within these departments.
Each U.S. embassy or consulate is providing information about visa interview scheduling and prioritization. For example, the online page for the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai states it is currently processing all immigrant visas (green cards) and K-1 visas.
Wishing you both a quick reunion!
I’m in the U.S. on an approved H-1B petition, but I don’t have an H-1B visa stamp in my passport. I want to visit my family in Mumbai.
Will I get a visa stamp in time to return to the U.S. within a month?
— Hankering for Home
Even though the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai has reopened, it has a huge backlog of cases to get through and is currently focusing on processing immigrant visa (green card) and K-1 fiancé(e) visas, not H-1Bs and other non-immigrant visas. Individuals I speak to who are currently planning December trips to India applied for their visa interviews months ago and have been in the queue for quite some time.
If you absolutely need to be physically present in the U.S. again in January, and you don’t currently have a visa interview scheduled, reconsider your travel — you are unlikely to obtain an appointment in India within the next month.
Prior to COVID, many H-1B holders in the U.S. would seek Third Country National visa processing in third countries; please keep in mind that this is generally unavailable in Mexico and challenging in Canada as well due to the pandemic.
As always, I recommend consulting with your employer’s immigration counsel to discuss your particular case in more detail.
You can keep tabs on the latest non-immigrant visa appointments by using the U.S. Department of State’s Visa Appointment Wait Times. This online search tool estimates the wait time for scheduling an interview for non-immigrant visas, such as the H-1B visa, F-1 student visa and J-1 cultural exchange visa.
According to the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai web page, it is only scheduling emergency appointments for non-immigrant visas and it remains difficult to get an emergency appointment. However, as I mentioned above, consulate staff now has the discretion to determine what visas to prioritize, so continue to check U.S. embassies and consulates in India for updates on scheduling and timing.
Hopefully, we’ll be back to normal again in 2022!
All my best,
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The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.
Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!
Also published on Medium.