Globally, visa-issuance was suspended starting in March as countries closed their borders. Exceptions to this policy were only made for humanitarian and emergency cases, or for essential workers such as cargo crew and medical personnel. As countries are reopening however, many embassies and consulates are resuming visa interviews and issuance to the general public. The U.S. and many countries in the EU are among those resuming interviews for non-essential cases that had been put on hold globally. But, not all visa categories are being processed again. Most countries that have resumed visa processing are doing so only for specific visa categories. For example, in our blog “Summer vacation and covid…” we discuss countries that are resuming tourist visa processing. The three main categories listed below outline the primary types of visas that are currently starting to be issued again.
- Work-based, essential mainly related to food production, crew including seafarers, and delivery personnel
While temporary and seasonal workers in the construction, hospitality, and oil and gas sectors have seen positions dwindle during this pandemic, workers in other seasonal industries were not as affected by the shutdowns. Seasonal agricultural work, such as harvesting fruits and vegetables, or other farm products such as sugarcanes is still an active industry and workers requiring visas to travel for these occupations are being processed at this time. Similarly, transportation crews and seafarers were also unaffected by the shut down as they provide services in the transport of essential goods globally.
2. Students, primarily in institutions of higher education
Students are another category of travelers still permitted in most countries. Canada and Australia, for instance, have permitted students to enter in spite of border shutdowns. The U.S. continues to allow students to enter, as long as they were not in the EU, UK, Iran, China, or Brazil in the past 14 days. In regards to student visas in the US specifically, while the United States initially had a policy against issuing student visas to students whose classes would be online-only as a result of university closures, the country has reversed this original policy position and is now allowing the issuance of student visas to all students registered for full-time study in the United States — regardless of the university’s current campus status.
3. Family, immediate and direct relationships, such as significant others
Family reunification is deemed essential in most countries, despite the current pandemic situation. Qualifying relationships include: spouses, children, parents, significant others, and legal partners. Some countries also include domestic servants in the “essential” category of relations. Since May, Denmark has permitted “sweetheart” exemptions that allow for cross-border dating. However, most countries do not consider dating relationships sufficiently strong for visa issuance.
Honorable mention: Investors, those who own real estate, second homes, or holiday properties, are also able to acquire visas in some countries. Investor visas are issued to individuals who have a made a minimum investment in the country to qualify for permanent residency. These investments play a vital role in the development of the countries’ different projects and, in turn, create vital jobs for the local population. Saint Kitts and Nevis recently announced that they have lowered the minimum investment amount from $190,000 to $150,000 until the end of 2020. For the U.S., one would need to invest at least $900,000 for residency. This type of residency visa continues to be processed in the U.S., even as other visa options are suspended. Similarly, international expats with homes in multiple countries were also one of the first groups permitted to travel to visit their properties globally, when border restrictions began to ease in June.
Also note: “Visa processing” is different from travel authorization — a visa alternative that has emerged globally. Whereas visas usually require a lengthy application process and (usually) grant the bearer free entry and exit into the country for an extended period of time (multiple years), travel authorizations are short online forms that are specific to the trip being taken and are only valid for that specific trip. Often, those who are visa-exempt will still need to complete a travel authorization.