O-1 Visa Stamping During The COVID-19 Pandemic
You may have options if your O-1 petition has been approved but you are outside the U.S. and unable to obtain the O-1 visa stamp because of COVID-19 restrictions. Several Legalpad customers were recently granted national interest exceptions to get their O-1 visa stamps.
Background: Due to COVID-19, the Department of State suspended routine visa services at all U.S. Consulates and Embassies in March 2020. Even though some Consulates and Embassies have started a phased reopening, most posts are still closed and are only conducting limited visa services. Many people with O-1 approval notices, who are currently abroad, have been unable to obtain visa stamps.
COVID-19 has also resulted in several Presidential Proclamations that barred entry for people who were physically present in certain countries within 14 days of attempted U.S. entry, including: the Schengen Area (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland), U.K. and Ireland, plus Brazil, China, and Iran.
The Department of State later clarified that these Proclamations have a national interest exception that may allow impacted people to enter the United States for “humanitarian travel, public health response, and national security” reasons. If the national interest exception is granted, you would be able to obtain a visa stamp and enter the U.S.!
- How O-1 beneficiaries can apply for the national interest exception if they are impacted by the Proclamations covering the Schengen Area, U.K., Ireland, Brazil, China, and Iran
To obtain the national interest exception, you will need to first contact the U.S. Consulate to request an emergency O-1 visa appointment. You should check the Consulate’s website for the specific procedures for the emergency appointment request because instructions will vary at each post.
You will need to provide specific details on why your work in the U.S. would qualify for a national interest exception, such as how your entry into the U.S. would positively impact:
- Public health response: For example, you are a researcher working on early detection for COVID-19, or you are the founder of a startup working in biotechnology that will enhance cancer treatment to benefit public health.
- National security: For example, you are a founder of a startup that enhances video surveillance using machine learning, which can be used to promote national security at airports.
- Humanitarian travel: For example, your work directly alleviates homelessness or poverty.
If you are a senior-level manager or executive, such as CEO or founder of a startup, you can also add how your presence in the U.S. will create a substantial economic benefit to the U.S. because you will provide the strategic direction necessary for the success of the company.
If the request is granted, you will then be able to attend the visa interview at the U.S. Consulate or Embassy. You should bring supporting documentation on how you qualify for the national interest exception to the interview. For instance, if you are a startup founder working in biotechnology, you should have a 1-page letter on your company’s letterhead describing how your work will benefit public health. This letter can be in your own words. The letter does not need to be written by a lawyer, and it does not need to be technical or overly formal. The letter should highlight: What does your company do? What will you be doing in the U.S.? Why does your work qualify for a national interest exception? You can supplement the letter with additional evidence to substantiate your claim, such as information about your company and the impact of your work.
Ultimately, whether the exception will be granted would be based on the discretion of the Consulate. If the national interest exception is issued, the O-1 visa will be valid for a single entry within 30 days of the visa approval.
- For O-1 beneficiaries not in the Schengen Area, U.K., Ireland, Brazil, China, or Iran within 14 days of attempted entry into the U.S., these Proclamations do not apply to you
For example, the Proclamations would not apply if you have an O-1 approval and you are in Mexico. You would not need to request a national interest exception.
If you are still unable to secure a visa appointment because the Consulate is closed, you may try to request an emergency appointment (without a national interest exception). The instructions for requesting an emergency appointment are specific to each post, and you will need to contact the Consulate directly. Approval of the request would be based on the Consulate’s discretion.
For example, the U.S. Consulate in Mexico states that you may qualify for an emergency visa appointment if there is a “business emergency”. You will need to contact the Consulate to make the request. You should highlight why you need to be in the U.S. as soon as possible – the Consulate may be more willing to approve the request if there is an imminent need. Things to emphasize: What happens if you are unable to enter the U.S. right away – will there be a tangible impact on your company, such as your company losing a big contract or client? What would be the business impact on the company and the client?
Some Consulates do not explicitly list “business emergency” as a factor for granting an emergency appointment. You will need to contact the Consulate to ask whether an emergency appointment can be issued.
Also note, if you are a Canadian citizen, you are visa-exempt. Canadian citizens would not need to request an emergency appointment for visa stamping because they do not require a visa for U.S. entry.
Conclusion: This is a developing trend, and Legalpad is closely monitoring developments. If you are subject to the Proclamations and think you qualify for a national interest exception to obtain an O-1 visa stamp, you should contact the U.S. Consulate to get specific instructions. There is no guarantee that the exception will be granted, but it may be worth a try and the recent successes are promising!