Tourist Visas and Coronavirus, What Options do Immigrants have?
The Coronavirus Disease, also known as COVID-19, is not only shutting down the world’s economy, it is also shutting down migration. Countries have either limited who is able to come in and out of their borders or have completely ceased all flights until further notice. What happens if you are currently in the United States with a non-immigrant tourist visa and no way of getting home?
A B2 visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows an immigrant to come to the United States for a temporary visit for vacation. The duration of the visa is listed on the visa stamp that is placed in the immigrant’s passport at the United States consulate. The length of the visa varies depending on the immigrant’s nationality and/or on the discretion of the issuing consulate. Most immigrants have tourist visas that are valid for 5 to 10 years. Immigrants with valid B2 visas are able to travel to the United States while their tourist visas are valid, however, the amount of time that they are able to remain in the United States during any individual trip is determined upon entering the United States.
The United States Customs and Borders Protections (CBP) is the agency that screens all immigrants at ports of entry. Once an immigrant enters the United States either at an airport or seaport, a CBP immigration officer will review their visa, and issue an I-94 Arrival/Departure Form, that will dictate how long the immigrant is allowed to stay lawfully in the United States during their trip. A CBP officer may issue an I-94 for a maximum of six months to a visitor entering the United States with a B2 visa, at the discretion of the officer.
In the event that immigrant is in the United States and is unable to leave before their I-94 expires they should file for an extension of their status right away! An application to extend your stay should be filed at least 45 days before the I-94 expires. An immigrant is able to apply for an extension of their stay in the United States to continue the same activities permitted when they were first admitted, however, their passport must be valid for the entire requested period of stay in the United States. The request to extend the stay should be filed before the I-94 expires, however, where there are compelling unforeseen circumstances, immigration will accept a late filing. Immigrants who are currently in the United States and have concerns about traveling due to the coronavirus should file for an extension of their stay as soon as possible.
Please note that if you entered the United States using a visa waiver program, you are not eligible to file an application for a stay. You may, however, contact your local CBP office and request special consideration.