E2 visa applicants facing long delays due to COVID-19

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Sanwar Ali: additional comments and reporting

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, many US consulates and embassies around the world have resumed the processing of E2 visa applications and other US visa types. However, while E2 visa processing is increasing, overseas and US government restrictions continue to delay processing of US visa applications.  For example in the UK many people are having to wait until towards the end of 2021 to obtain an US visa.

Some people wishing to obtain an E2 visa may choose to apply for an E2 visa from within the US.  Those with a B1/B2 visa issued at the US Embassy (not under the visa waiver scheme) may be able to apply from within the US for an E2 visa and using premium processing obtain a visa in fifteen days.

Interestingly, it has now become more difficult to gain a US visa quickly under Biden compared to Trump during the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.  Instead of showing "substantial economic benefit" for the National Interest Exception criteria travelers from the Schengen Area, UK, and Ireland you will now need to show that you will provide "vital support of critical infrastructure sectors."  This is much more difficult to show!


Meanwhile, consulates and embassies worldwide are faced with huge backlogs. Since the start of March 2020, US visa processing has dropped sharply as the US government instructed consulates to suspend all routine visa services and provide only ‘mission critical and emergency services’.

Some restrictions were eased in July 2020, with some consulates given permission to gradually resume visa processing services. However, the closure of services had a direct effect on the number of E2 visas that were being issued at US consulates around the world.


45% decrease in number of E2 visas issued

According to data released by the US Department of State (DoS), in 2020 there was a 45% drop in the number of E2 visas issued compared to 2019.

However, as consulates and embassies begin to reopen and COVID restrictions start to ease, the number of E2 visas being issued is gradually rising. According to the DoS, some consulates have been issuing E2 visas at a rate that exceeds the number issued prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

This has largely been attributed to consular attempts to clear huge backlogs that built up as applications continued to arrive when limited processing services were available.

While this is good news, the US government and some foreign governments have continued to implement policies to tackle the spread of COVID-19, which have slowed E2 visa processing. The National Interest Exception restrictions imposed on the Schengen Area, the UK and Ireland on March 2, is just one example of such a policy.


E2 visa trends 

Based on DoS data, trends show that the issuing of E2 visas across consulates worldwide stopped completely in April 2020 until July 2020. However, consulates in Frankfurt, Germany, London, UK, Seoul, South Korea, Tokyo, Japan and Toronto, Canada, resumed E2 visa processing in August 2020.

By October 2020, most consulates were approaching or exceeding visa processing numbers that were seen prior to the pandemic. In October 2020, the US consulate in Frankfurt issued 229 E2 visas having only issued 196 in February 2020 – one month before COVID-19 restrictions came into effect.

A similar trend occurred at the consulate in Tokyo, which processed more E2 visa applications in October, November and December than the months immediately prior to March 2020. In December, the consulate in Tokyo actually processed more E2 visa applications than it had in January and February 2020 combined.

The increase in E2 visa processing seemingly signals that consulates are attempting to deal with huge backlogs. However, it’s likely that backlogs will remain for many months to come.

According to DoS data for January 2021, fewer E2 visas were processed. This has been attributed to rising COVID-19 case numbers at the end of 2020 and the start of 2021, leading to an increase in the number of restrictions implemented by the US government and overseas governments.

While consulates are continuing to process E2 visas, the restrictions have slowed processing significantly.

However, the signs are that consulates are working to clear backlogs as processing will only increase as COVID-19 vaccines continue to be administered worldwide and restrictions and social distancing measures are eased.


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