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Newsline: Limited operations at US consulates keep visa holders on edge

The Biden administration has lifted some restrictions on vaccinated travelers and reopened its land borders, but limited operations at U.S. consulates abroad continue to keep visa holders stuck in the United States — wary that if they leave, they won’t be let back in. Limited appointment availability in major cities across the globe, particularly in India, prevents foreign professionals and students with valid statuses but expired visa stamps from renewing their visas abroad and returning from short trips to their lives in the U.S. While foreign citizens may renew their employment authorization from within the U.S. — and many did last year during the pandemic — they must leave the country to renew the visas themselves, which allow them to enter the U.S. from abroad. “People have been afraid to travel because they know that if they leave, and they don’t have a current visa, that they could be stuck for months on end, almost indefinitely, without being able to get back into the U.S.,” said immigration lawyer Greg Siskind, a board member for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “I’m still advising people: Don’t travel, unless you’re prepared to be working remotely for a year.” (https://www.rollcall.com/2021/12/22/limited-operations-at-us-consulates-keep-visa-holders-on-edge/) The State Department suspended most routine visa services in 2020 as COVID-19 first spread across the globe. The pause in routine visa services created a crushing backlog: According to a recent State Department report, by the end of this year, more than 450,000 people eligible for immigrant visas will be waiting to have their interviews scheduled. A State Department official said Monday the COVID-19 pandemic “resulted in profound reductions in the Department’s visa processing capacity.” At consulates in London, Paris and Mexico City, for instance, applicants must wait about two months for a nonimmigrant visa appointment. In Toronto, the wait for such an appointment is more than a year, according to the State Department website. And in India, which saw travel restrictions lifted in November, visa appointments are available on an emergency-only basis at the consulates in Mumbai, New Delhi and Kolkata, preventing many of the thousands of Indian citizens working or studying legally in the U.S. from visiting relatives for the holidays or other significant events.

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