How did COVID impact spouse and fiancé(e) visa processing?
It is astounding how a virus can grind global economies to a screeching halt–yet that is precisely what happened when the COVID-19 virus emerged in late 2019 and early 2020. Governments everywhere restricted international travel, sometimes ordering citizens to remain in their homes, and began the process to triage services as either “essential” or “nonessential.”
One of the services largely deemed “nonessential” was immigrant and nonimmigrant visa processing around the world. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) shut down many offices in consular posts around the world, with the U.S. Department of State canceling interviews and leaving tens of thousands in a state of limbo. At home, employees at the National Visa Center (“NVC”) which processes immigrant visas, were instructed to use vacation days before being furloughed for an unknown length of time. Ironically, foreign national applicants could still send in applications – and pay the filing fees – but those applications would not be immediately processed.
In addition, there were travel bans including a quick succession of Presidential Proclamations which banned many inbound travelers, with rare exceptions. Exceptions included applicants who had a family-based visa appointment, including marriage-based visas for K-3 “Nonimmigrant Spouse”, “Immediate Relative” (IR1) (immediate family), or “Conditional Resident” (CR1) immigration visas. The K-1 “Fiancé(e)” visa was not specifically included or excluded in those proclamations, but all of the above family-based visa processing pathways were negatively impacted by pandemic-related travel bans, federal staffing shortages, and international travel limitations.
Has spouse and fiancé(e) visa processing improved since the COVID pandemic began?
Thankfully, worldwide travel shutdowns seem to be largely behind us and most consular visa processing has returned to a new normal of lengthier-than-normal pre-pandemic processing. The backlog of cases that formed over two years of lockdowns has been reduced, and NVC processing times are slowly improving. NVC’s most recent report suggests they are opening new cases and assigning tracking numbers to USCIS-approved applications within three (3) weeks of receipt, and beginning detailed reviews of those applications within about ten (10) weeks. Applications that are properly filed with all required supporting documentation in place will be adjudicated much faster than those with missing evidence. Regardless, these processes will still take many months from start to finish.
The actual paperwork required to obtain family-based and marriage-based visas has not changed since the start of the COVID pandemic, but some processing changes have been implemented. USCIS announced they will make permanent the flexibility to use electronic signatures instead of a true, “wet” signature, which will streamline the submission process. However, at the same time they expanded medical clearance requirements to include vaccination against COVID, in addition to long-standing requirements to address contagious diseases that include polio, measles and hepatitis (list), proof of which must be submitted as a part of the medical review in the application process.
We Are Here For You
A wise man once wrote that “Many waters cannot quench love…” (Song of Solomon 8:7). The process of bringing your fiancé(e) or spouse to the United States may seem daunting, but we know you are motivated to do everything possible to make it happen. Our immigration law experts at Philip Levin & Associates are here to help you in that process. We can help you decide the best visa to apply for, ensure all supporting documents are completed correctly, and then shepherd your application through its USCIS and NVC processing stages. Reach out to us today, and let us help you get united with your loved one as soon as possible.