Traveling to the US During COVID-19: Consular Applications & Interview Update

By David Cantor Global Director of Client Relations

It is notably a difficult time for anyone needing to travel to the United States. Whether it is for purposes of business, family or leisure – travel restrictions are still in effect for the United States through December 31, 2020 as a result of the Presidential Proclamation.

In recent months, various US Embassies and Consulates have issued formal reports on the commencement of adjudicating select visa-applications, conducting interviews and granted travel permission to those who fall within the National Interest Exemption.

The National Interest Exemption (NIE), effectively permits individuals from the UK and Schengen Region to travel to the United States – the most common applicants being Students (F1 and M1 visa holders), Researchers (J1 Visa), Investors (E2) and those who need to attend to urgent, temporary, business matters (B1 or ESTA).

In order to determine whether you qualify for the National Interest Exemption it is necessary to submit a request to the respective US Consulate.

Navigating these requirements can prove challenging, since there is no uniform policy for the re-opening of US Consulates. For instance, the US Consulate in Rome is now welcoming E-2 Treaty Investor Visa applications, while the US Embassy in London does not expressly mention this on the State Department website.

The same goes for other US Consulates throughout the Schengen Region, and we suggest you further consult an attorney to determine visa-processing viability and NIE procedures through the respective Consulate.

What remains clear, is that waiting periods and additional processing delays are likely accumulating. For example, the United States Embassy in London was previously adjudicating E-2 Investor Visas within a 30-45 day window – while, cases filed in March and April remain pending and the earliest interviews that are being granted is August 2021.

That said, for qualified applicants you are generally able to make expedited requests and obtain Consular appointments in a much shorter period of time. However, you still need to fully-understand the processing requirements for the National Interest Exemption, as it varies from Consulate to Consulate. 

The global response to Covid-19 is unprecedented. The United States has imposed restrictions on visits from a swathe of countries and regions in an attempt to limit the outbreak. Nevertheless, if you are considering a US visa application, we recommend starting the process. It takes time to prepare and L-1 and and E-2 visa application, so this uncertain time can still be used effectively.

The E-2 Treaty Investor Visa allows a person to move to the United States with their family for the purpose of own and operating a business. Spouses are eligible to apply for work authorization outside the E-2 business. Applicants must be a citizen of an E-2 Treaty Country. Click here to find out if your country is on the list.

If your country is not on the list, it is necessary to first become a citizen of an E-2 Treaty Country. Davies & Associates is able to package together citizenship by investment (CBI) of Grenada or Turkey with an E-2 visa application. Find out more about the process here.

The L-1 Visa allows for the transfer of a manager or executive from the overseas branch to the US branch of the same company. This visa can also be used as part of setting up a new US presence. Davies & Associates can help you set up the US office before transferring an employee there to manage that business.

The Schengen area refers to 26 European countries that have abolished their internal borders. This includes much of the European Union excluding the United Kingdom, Ireland, and recent joiners. It also includes Iceland, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Norway.

Contact Us to discuss your case.

This article is published for clients, friends and other interested visitors for information purposes only. The contents of the article do not constitute legal advice and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Davies & Associates or any of its attorneys, staff or clients. External links are not an endorsement of the content.


United States Announces Plans to Expand Collection of Biometric Data from Visa Applicants

By Maxine Philavong

On Sept. 1, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced plans to significantly expand its collection of personal information from immigrants seeking a U.S. visa by requesting more biometric data and DNA to verify family relationships during the immigration process.

The proposal, which has not officially been released by the DHS, allows for authoritative changes to the department’s biometric data and DNA collection.

USCIS currently requires biometrics from anyone over the age of 14 who applies for certain immigration benefits, mostly for those with applications involving a background check. These biometrics are in the form of photographs, fingerprints and signatures.

What May Change?

Although biometric data and DNA collection is not new for the immigration process in the U.S., DHS stated that it would release a proposal detailing their new biometric data use protocols and expansion to department authorities. Expansions include technologies ranging from voiceprints or iris scans, in addition to technologies the department is still developing.

According to DHS, the proposal will standardize the definition of biometrics for the department’s components, “eliminating any ambiguity surrounding the department’s use of biometrics.” By establishing a standardization, the department will set “clear standards for how and why they collect and use this information.”

Who May Be Affected?

The proposed policy would authorize the collection of biometrics for anyone who is seeking a visa or citizenship as well as their spouses. It would also eliminate the existing age limit on biometrics and start requiring children under the age of 14 to provide biometric information. Further, the policy would authorize the collection of DNA to verify certain family relationships. The department claimed the results of collected biometrics will be stored in immigrations’ official records, but that raw DNA will not be kept.

In some cases, USCIS will request biometric information from immigrants with work permits or green card at any point until they become a U.S. citizen. In some cases, the department would have authority to collect U.S. citizens’ DNA.

Why the Change?

According to DHS, the move protects against those who may misrepresent themselves as a biological family unit. “By using DNA or DNA tests to establish bona fide genetic relationship between adults and minors in DHS custody,” the department said in its announcement, “DHS can better protect the well-being of children.”

Ken Cuccinelli, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security, said using technology to verify the identity of an individual is “responsibly governing.”

“Leveraging readily available technology to verify the identity of an individual we are screening is responsible governing,” Cuccinelli said in the statement. “The collection of biometric information also guards against identity theft and thwarts fraudsters who are not who they claim to be.”

Contact Us to discuss your case.

This article is published for clients, friends and other interested visitors for information purposes only. The contents of the article do not constitute legal advice and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Davies & Associates or any of its attorneys, staff or clients. External links are not an endorsement of the content.


National Interest Exception: Traveling to the United States during Covid19

By David Cantor, Global Director of Client Relations, Davies & Associates

Recent months have proven to complicate matters for those seeking to travel to the United States. This is especially concerning for those that have serious matters to attend to within the United States – whether it be issues related directly business, academics or family.  

On July 20th, 2020, the US Embassy and Consulates General in Italy resumed certain immigrant and non-immigrant visa processing services – including appointments for treaty-investors, exchange visitors and students, as well as athletes and entertainers. This is also true for the US Embassies Consulates in other European locations, with certain exceptions – such as Paris, London and Belfast.

While there is still much uncertainty surrounding the existing travel bans as it applies to foreign nationals and specifically those in the Schengen region – it seems that some US Embassies and Consulates, as well as US Customs and Border Control authorities are beginning to provide practical guidance and potential pathways that permit temporary travel into the United States.

On July 15th, 2020 certain travelers from Schengen countries, including Italy, were permitted to resume travel into the United States through the National Interest Exemption. In order to be granted permission to travel from the Schengen region, an applicant must submit a National Interest Exemption request directly to the respective Consulate.

The National Interest Exemption (“NIE”) is best applied to those that are seeking to travel to the United States as Students (F1 and M1 visas), Researchers (J1 visa), Investors (E2), or for temporary business matters (B1 or ESTA).

To be considered for the NIE it is necessary that you qualify for one of the exemptions listed in the Presidential Proclamation, summarized below:

ECONOMIC BENEFIT EXCEPTION. An applicant must prove that the temporary travel to the United States will provide substantial economic benefit to the US economy. Qualified applicants through the national interest exception may include:

  • Technical experts and specialists
  •  Senior-Level managers and executives
  • Professional athletes, dependents and essential staff
  • Treaty-investors and traders

ACADEMICS & STUDENTS. An applicant should be participating in a bona-fide exchange program or full-time course of study. Qualified applicants through the national interest exception may include:

  • Full-time students
  • Professors
  • Research Scholars
  • Short-term Scholars
  • Other specialists 

I have a valid ESTA, can I travel to the United States?

If you have a valid ESTA and are coming from the Schengen region you still need to apply for the National Interest Exception (NIE) in order to be granted permission to travel.

I have a valid B1, E2, J1, O1, or F1 visa – can I travel to the United States?

If you hold a B1, E2, J1, O1, M1 or F1 visa, you still need to apply for the NIE in order to be granted permission to travel to the United States.

How do I apply for the NIE?

Supporting documentation must be sent directly to the Embassy or Consulate of your region of residence.  Contact us today to learn more.

Italian nationals can submit supporting documentation directly to the respective Consulate – please contact our Italy Practice Team today.

What documents do I need to apply?

This will depend on your local Consulate, however, basic documentation is required (i.e. biographic page of passport, proof of valid US visa or ESTA) as well as supporting documentation in English demonstrating your qualifications for the NIE as well as purpose for travel.

How long does it take to apply for the NIE?

Generally, 30-business days, however, this depends on your local Consulate. As discussed above, as of July 20th, the US Embassy and Consulates General in Italy resumed certain immigrant and non-immigrant visa services. It is very likely that there will be increased wait-times and substantial processing backlogs, so if you believe you qualify, it is encouraged to apply as soon as possible.

Can I include my dependents on the NIE application?

Investors, students and other academics can also include dependents in the NIE request.

I am in the United States, can I apply for the NIE?

No – the consular sections cannot accept NIE requests for those that are physically present in the United States.

How long is the NIE valid for?

Travelers permitted to enter the United States through the national interest exception must do so within-30 days of the approval. This is valid only for a single-entry into the United States.

The total permitted stay will depend on the permitted duration of stay granted  by the US Customs and Border Protection officers at the port of entry.

Is the NIE process complicated?

Since US consulates and embassies are just starting to re-open for routine processing of US visas, the NIE requests are fairly new and untested. We highly encourage you speaking with a qualified US immigration attorney to obtain a free consultation for this matter.

This article is published for clients, friends and other interested visitors for information purposes only. The contents of the article do not constitute legal advice and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Davies & Associates or any of its attorneys, staff or clients.