On March 11, the President announced sweeping travel restrictions affecting much of Europe, and by the beginning of this week travel to the U.S. by nationals of 26 European countries, the U.K., and Ireland had been banned. More is likely to come, as the President and White House confirmed that domestic travel bans are also on the table.
The evolving state of global restrictions is creating new complications for visa holders. Noncitizen workers who can no longer return to their homes abroad may be forced to extend their stay in the U.S. beyond the time period authorized at the time of their admission. Even nonimmigrant workers and visitors whose home countries are exempt from current restrictions could be kept from traveling by quarantines, hospitalizations, or domestic travel disruptions.
There is cause for concern — but not despair – for business visitors who are required to leave the U.S. by a set date in the near future, but are now or may soon be stuck. Current and future conditions could give rise to conflicts between what is required for compliance and what is feasible, but it may be possible to resolve or avoid at least some of these conflicts.
Employers can protect their B-1 business visitors from incurring unlawful presence penalties by filing Form I-539 and requesting the maximum allowable extension of six months past the formal filing date. This filing must be submitted before the individual’s existing status expires.
ESTA [business] visitors, on the other hand, may receive a 30-day extension (called “satisfactory departure”) upon showing an inability to travel. Ordinarily, individuals seeking satisfactory departure must file an application to extend their stay, along with the required supporting evidence, with the district director of a USCIS field office. However, U.S. Customs and Border Protection at Logan Airport announced that they will review and grant satisfactory departure on a case-by-case basis to individuals who live in the jurisdiction covered by Boston Logan Deferred Inspections and are in the U.S. under an ESTA admission, where their 90 day duration of stay is due in the next 14 days or less and they cannot depart because of COVID-19 issues.
This is a welcome sign of flexibility on the part of the government.