Options for People Who Can’t Travel due to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Allison Lukanich

The last few months have tested the world’s resolve as the COVID-19 virus has continued to spread.  Many countries have put in place both incoming and outgoing travel restrictions for their citizens and residents, creating many issues for those who may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The U.S. State Department is advising against all international travel for the time being.  In addition, there are various travel bans in place for those coming from certain areas of the world, notably China and Europe.  For the most up to date information, we have created a resource page to keep our clients and other immigrants up-to-date on immigration and COVID-19 news, visit our Coronavirus Resources page.

Options for Lawful Permanent Residents [Green Card Holders] Stuck Abroad

If you are currently INSIDE the United States

This global pandemic is an unprecedented event. As a foreign national, if you are in the U.S., your visa or I-94 is expiring soon and you can’t leave, consult with an immigration attorney immediately about what options you may have. In many circumstances, you can file Form I-539 to extend your non-immigrant status or change your status to a different  visa category.

Specifically, if you are at high risk of developing complications due to your age, prior health conditions, or because you are immunocompromised should you be exposed to COVID-19, you should look into extending or changing your status to be able to remain lawfully in the U.S.

Evidence such as a previously booked flight for an earlier date, travel restrictions from your home country, and a doctor’s letter indicating why it is not advisable for you to travel would be helpful in demonstrating that you still intend to leave the U.S. when the crisis is over.

Again, these are serious times and maintaining your immigration status is important, so please talk to an immigration attorney as soon as possible.

If you are currently OUTSIDE of the United States

For the past few weeks the U.S. State Department has closed all consulates around the world for visa processing.  If you left the country for visa stamping and are stuck outside and unable to return, you should check the visa portal consistently to see if and when appointments are available for interviews for your specific consulate. Keep in mind that until things start reopening it will be difficult to get an appointment.

If you are a U.S. citizen and are outside the United States and want to return, you should reach out to the U.S. Embassy in the country where you currently located.  The Embassies are helping to coordinate U.S. citizens returning from abroad and providing them the services that they can.  You can get more information here.

If you are a Lawful Permanent Resident (or green card holder) and are outside the United States: you can also work with the U.S. Embassy to help facilitate your return. Keep in mind that green card holders should not be outside of the U.S. for more than 6 months at a time. If they are, they risk abandoning their residency status.

If you are coming close to being outside of the U.S. for 6 months and are unable to travel due to travel restrictions or because you are considered high risk, you should collect evidence demonstrating those factors, as well as evidence demonstrating you have made every effort to return to the U.S. within the 6 months time frame.

Typically, green card holders could apply for a re-entry permit allowing them to remain outside of the U.S. for more than 6 months without abandoning their status. However, a re-entry permit must be applied for when the green card holder is physically present on U.S. soil, so this is not a viable option for someone currently stuck outside of the U.S.

Patience is of the utmost importance during this time. We must wait to see how long these travel restrictions and consulate shut-downs remain in place, as we are in unprecedented times.  Consulting with an immigration attorney can help to put a plan in place as to how to either legitimately extend your stay or help you return.  We’re here to help.

Stay safe!