The Trump administration has used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to curtail many immigrant and nonimmigrant visa programs, including J-1 cultural exchange visitors. But with vaccines on the immediate horizon and a new Biden administration soon to take office, what should we expect for programs like the J-1 visa?
Many visa programs have faced intense scrutiny over the last four years. Restrictions put in place before the pandemic made nonimmigrant visas more difficult to obtain. But in June 2020, it became impossible. The Trump administration banned entry of J-1, L-1 (intracompany transfers), H-1B (high-skilled workers), and H-2B seasonal worker visas for ostensibly “presenting a risk to the U.S. labor market” during the economic recovery from the pandemic.
As President-elect Biden is set to take office, experts anticipate a reversal of many of Trump’s restrictions on these visas.
Reversal of Travel Bans
There is speculation that the Biden-Harris administration will reverse the ban barring admission of nonimmigrant J, L, and H-1 visa holders. It’s also expected that the Biden administration will reverse the travel ban that presently bars entry from individuals from the Schengen area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, Iran, and China due to COVID-19.
But the timing of these reversals could be impacted by record numbers of COVID-19 infections anticipated by the time Biden takes office.
Review Duration of Status Rules
The administration may review the proposed rules set for F-1 (student) and J-1 visas’ duration of status, which impacts the length of time a visa holder is permitted to stay in the United States.
The Trump administration sought to limit the amount of time many student and exchange visitors could remain in the United States, making the programs less appealing and predictable.
Consulate and Embassy Reopening Remains Uncertain
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, the uncertainty of embassy and consulate closures remains.
In March 2020, the U.S. Department of State released guidance that embassies and consulates would suspend routine visa services in response to the pandemic.
As the situation began to look hopeful toward the end of July, the Department of State announced that embassies and consulates would enter staggered phases of resumption, providing services determined by each country’s condition and capacity. But the department reiterated in November that consular reopening’s would be phased and occur on a post-by-post basis.
U.S. embassies across the world process the foreign nationals that participate in these visa categories. Without reopening, there is no visa processing. Canadian visitors are an important J-1 exception, as they do not require a visa to travel to the United States if they have approved J-1 paperwork.
While embassies and consular offices remain closed, the backlog of individuals preparing documents and requesting appointments will continue.
Though the many reforms and reversals cannot happen overnight, significant changes will occur throughout 2021. We should expect that the Biden administration will be more welcoming to immigrants and visitors and will likely reverse the harsh anti-immigrant policies of the Trump administration. These changes will be important in restoring economic growth as well as repairing relations with other nations.