Biden Administration’s Covid-19 Visa Policies Challenged in a New Lawsuit

A recent lawsuit was filed that challenges the Biden Administration’s Covid-19 visa policies that have contributed to significant visa backlogs and issues for employers.

On 7 April, a lawsuit was filed that challenges the U.S. State Department’s policy of not issuing visas to individuals in countries currently restricted due to COVID-related concerns. The complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief argues that the policy is inconsistent, does not advance public health, and is contributing to the massive visa backlog that has only exacerbated issues for employers.

Currently, the State Department restricts entry (with certain exceptions) to the U.S. for travelers coming from the countries of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the People’s Republic of China, the Federative Republic of Brazil, South Africa, the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the Schengen area of Europe during the 14-days prior to seeking entry. However, the lawsuit argues that this has been inconsistently applied, as some valid visa categories are denied entry while others are not.

The inconsistency, the plaintiffs argue, extends to the required COVID-negative test required to travel, which has been applied to some visas and not others. Visas have also been refused to individuals in situations that would allow them to quarantine in a third country for fourteen days prior to seeking entry. This may result in applicants traveling to additional countries to qualify their 14-day quarantine, which only exacerbates public health and safety concerns.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which include employers who have applied for visas for needed workers, assert that “Sponsoring organizations report losing 50% to 90% of their expected staff, and millions of dollars in revenue due to the Department of State’s refusal to process J-1 visas in countries subject to regional entry restrictions,” while those in L-1, H-1B and other temporary visas categories are also affected. Due to these restrictions and their inconsistencies, the lawsuit argues that this will only contribute to the rising visa backlogs. There is currently a total of 2.6 million backlogged visas, with half a million being qualified applicants ready for consular interviews.

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How This Impacts Mobility

As the U.S. continues to work toward economic recovery and a return to workforce mobility, the movement of qualified workers to and from the U.S. is critical. The issues raised by this lawsuit point to significant roadblocks faced by employers and employees in the visa process that must be addressed if backlogs are to ease for workforce mobility to continue. Should any member have questions, please reach out to our Vice President of Member Engagement and Public Policy Rebecca Peters, rpeters@worldwideerc.org.