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US work visa backlog increases amid coronavirus

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Sanwar Ali: additional reporting and comments

A combination of coronavirus and Trump’s US work visa ban has exacerbated an existing backlog, according to the American Immigration Council. The backlog is seemingly affecting some American states more than others. In Nevada for example, 1 in 4 workers is an immigrant and demand is increasing, but visas are in short supply.

In many cases processing times for even a non-immigrant visa takes many months.  Under Biden fewer people applying for a work visa qualify for a priority visa.  In some cases it may be worth seeing if a visa application can be made from within the US.  Some people wishing to visit the US are travelling to another country first and then travelling to the US to avoid bans on entry for people travelling from certain countries including the UK, Ireland and the EU.


Immigrant advocates are calling on Congress to update US immigration policy to increase the number of employment based immigrant visas (green cards) that are issued. Since the 1990s, the number of green cards that can be issued has been capped at 140,000. Since the coronavirus pandemic, backlogs have significantly increased.

Many companies have been trying to get their overseas workers back to US, while international students enrolled in US universities have been left stranded abroad. Health professionals, needed in countries outside of the US, have also been blocked from returning to the US, which has served to increase demand for migrants.


Restrictions easing 

One immigrant advocate said: “Slowly companies are coming back to life, engines are restarting. They’re starting to consider moving people across borders, sending people to work overseas, bringing people in to work in the US. It’s a matter of finding and making sure we can get the folks through as things open up again.”

However, according to the Congressional Research Service, the US work visa backlog across all categories stood at a staggering 900,000 at the end of 2020.

Based on the current backlog, should it continue at this rate, it means that within 10 years more than two million people could be left waiting for a US work visa.


Trump visa ban

Under the guise of protecting American workers, former US President Donald Trump issued an executive order suspending US work visas until the end of 2020. Trump extended this ban, prior to leaving office, up until March 31. 

The ban was left in place by President Biden and allowed to run its course. The ban has since expired, but the scale of the backlog has increased. Although the ban has been lifted, coronavirus travel restrictions mean that even if a person can secure a visa, US entry may still be prohibited.

Meanwhile, some US Consulates and Embassies around the world remain closed. While some are starting to reopen, services are limited. recently reported that E2 visa applicants, in particular, are facing extensive delays because of COVID-19. US visa processing delays have also hit Chinese students, according to a NAFSA Member Interest Group.

In February this year, it was reported that the H1B visa to green card backlog had reached a record-high of 1.2 million in 2020.


Tech companies badly affected

The tech sector, in particular, has suffered significantly as a result of Trump’s ban and backlogs caused by the pandemic. While H1B visas are issued for three years and can be renewed once after that workers need to secure permanent residency – meaning either a green card or citizenship – or they must leave the country.

However, green card and citizenship applications have also been hit by extensive backlogs, leaving many facing an uncertain future in the US. can help with US employment-based visas

If you would like to apply for a US work visa – including L1 visasE2 visasO1 visas and H1B visas – can help. is a specialist visa services firm with over thirty years of experience dealing with visa applications. We can help with a wide range of visa applications to your country of choice. Contact us for further details. You can also telephone 0344 991 9222.