Travel, and therefore visa, restrictions have become a way of life as the coronavirus pandemic continues into the late summer. However, for some, visa-based travel is still a requirement, particularly as countries try to balance the risks of allowing foreigners to enter their countries with the necessity for economic re-stabilization. In this post, we outline trends we have identified in new visa issuance procedures.
Currently, approximately 75 countries in the world have suspended new visa issuance for the public. While a few countries have resumed full operations, many of the countries currently issuing visas are providing only limited services or are only providing services to travelers from their ‘travel bubbles’ — countries with whom they have limited mutually open borders.
Across the board, visa applicants can expect the requirement for medical insurance that covers Covid-19 hospitalization a new normal.
Finally, here are three new Covid-19 related visa procedure trends we have observed. Some of these new trends might be temporary, but visa applicants should expect to regularly check-in on specific permanent changes in the countries they visit, particularly as things normalize post-pandemic.
- No in-person service or appointment-only in-person service
Countries that require an in-person interview and/or require biometrics (fingerprints) for visa issuance have limited their services to ‘by appointment only.’ This means that only the individual who is seeking the service is permitted to present themselves at the embassy for the appointment and representatives and agents are excluded from accompanying them. While the US has historically practiced this exclusion, until now, it has been unique in this sense. Now, limiting appearances during visa interviews to just the visa applicant is becoming an increasingly common procedure.
Some embassies have historically supported ‘walk-in’ visa applications in order to facilitate same-day applications and/or to allow applicants to ensure their documents are properly submitted. This convenience is no longer available in most cases.
- Online, email, and mail are the three primarily issuance methods
Instead, many countries are starting to offer visa issuance online (through a website), by mail, or by email.
Website-based visa issuance was a rising trend prior to Covid-19. However, this trend has increased significantly since the start of the pandemic — likely as a result of embassies trying to balance visa issuance responsibilities with social distancing.
Email and mail-in application are two other common methods many countries are encouraging the use of. However, we do not expect a steady increase in these visa application methods as managing email applications is a logistical struggle while mail-in (snail mail) applications have been on a steady decline as they are replaced by website-based application procedures. Of course, mailing passports for a visa-stamp/sticker will remain necessary so long as visas are issued as a physical stamp or sticker. But, physical stamps/stickers have been on the decline since before the onset of Covid-19. We expect to see more countries moving to a partially virtual or virtual-only visa procedure in the coming years.
- Elimination of on-arrival visa issuance and the suspension of visa-exemption
The biggest casualties of Covid-19 in terms of visa issuance procedures have been visas issued on-arrival and visa-exemptions. All countries that offered on-arrival visa options have ceased to do so. And, nearly all countries have suspended visa exemptions. Some, like China, even canceled valid longterm visas issued prior to March 28, 2020.
While the suspension of on-arrival visas and visa exemptions is the direct result of Covid-19, all of the suspensions appear to be of indeterminate length. Therefore, we cannot guarantee that any or all of these countries will resume on-arrival visa service or will honor visa exclusions after the pandemic. Certainly, the resumption of pre-pandemic visa exclusions and on-arrival services will be on a country-by-county.
Even now, countries that have reopened for tourism and have resumed their pre-Covid visa exclusions are also requiring additional travel authorization forms and Covid-19 free tests for entry. These countries are also applying their exclusions selectively, based on the perceived risk of Covid-19 importation. For instance, the Bahama’s recent withdrawal of permission to enter for US travelers was a response to rising virus rates in the US.