As the 2022 holiday season approaches, the H.R. Shared Services, International Researchers and Scholars Office (IRSO) would like to outline a few essential items to consider regarding international travel for personal reasons during this time of ongoing global unpredictability and instability.
Although we have seen some global improvements in the COVID-19 pandemic’s trajectory, the world continues to experience residual issues related to the pandemic, with international travel at the forefront. Although travel bans have been lifted, and many COVID-19 vaccine and testing restrictions and requirements have been eased or entirely removed, challenges persist with appointments at U.S. embassies and consulates due to continued closures and significantly reduced staffing at our missions abroad.
Some bright news that the U.S. Department of State recently reported is that worldwide visa operations have improved. Individuals can check this webpage for the latest information on visa processing and interview wait times.
While improvements are encouraging, we have yet to return to pre-pandemic times. Reviewing the considerations and risks associated with exiting the U.S. is important, as your ability to return to the U.S. quickly is still unpredictable, with potential delays. This is particularly important if you are a nonimmigrant needing a new visa stamp to return to the U.S. (F-1, J-1, H-1B, O-1, E-3, etc.) or are a Pending Immigrant moving through the green card process.
Updates and Key Points for 2022 Holiday Travel:
- The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued updates regarding vaccinations, testing, and travel requirements.
- The United States continues to require most nonimmigrant foreign nationals entering or returning to the country by air to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with limited exceptions.
- Rules may change with little or no notice, as the pandemic remains fluid with the potential for new COVID-19 variants, as well as new vaccines and expanded vaccine eligibility.
- Holiday time is a historically busy time for the U.S. Department of State, and due to COVID-19 and its continued impact, they are especially inundated with requests, exacerbating an already difficult situation. You may experience slower-than-normal processing times for visa interviews, delayed appointment scheduling, and appointment cancellations. You may find it challenging to find an open visa appointment on the consulate or embassy’s calendar, creating delays in your return to the U.S.
- Administrative Processing is always a possible outcome of your visa interview process and will likely significantly delay your return to the U.S.
- Difficulties when trying to get assistance if “stranded” abroad; IRSO can work to support you when faced with various visa-related issues abroad. However, most activities and decisions made by foreign governments, airlines, the U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection are outside of IRSO’s and the Lab’s ability to influence or change. Any support from our contracted immigration legal counsel may result in costs incurred by you.
- “Third Country Shopping” for visa appointments is not advisable, as it carries its unique risks, including the possible need for a visa to enter into the other country, the inability to secure an appointment, and being stranded in a country where you do not have friends or relatives. Note: Not all locations will accept a “Third Country” application.
- Limited ability to telework from a remote, international location. Telecommuting outside the United States for personal reasons for more than 30 days in a 12-month period is prohibited. Travel for personal reasons would need to be covered by your vacation leave/PTO or request for Leave Without Pay. Due to the unpredictability of international travel as noted above, you risk the inability to return in the time frame you intend without the ability to work remotely from abroad. This risk can include the inability to continue your employment if the Lab cannot hold your position in the U.S. due to personal travel.
Again, we advise that any non-essential travel be avoided to the extent possible. If travel is unavoidable or you elect to assume the risks of traveling internationally during the holidays, please:
- Clearly understand the risks outlined above and be willing to assume the consequences associated with your decision, knowing that the support available to you is limited in scope due to several key factors.
- Discuss with your direct manager or supervisor, your H.R. Division Partner, and IRSO well in advance of your plans, including potential risks of the inability to return as planned and implications on work objectives.
- Engage directly with IRSO to determine an appropriate plan for your return and keep IRSO apprised of your situation as it unfolds.
- Read over the HR COVID-19 Resources available to you.
- Ensure that you have all of your valid and unexpired visa and immigration documents (including original items, with signatures if required).
- J-1 Exchange Visitors require a Travel Endorsement signature from IRSO on the bottom right corner of the Form DS-2019 dated within the past 12 months
- F-1 Academic Students may need a Travel Endorsement from their university’s Designated School Official on their Form I-20
- H-1B Visa Holders must carry with them their original Form I-797 Approval Notice
- With limited exceptions for Canadian citizens and Automatic Visa Revalidation for travel to Mexico or Canada for 30 days or less, foreign nationals must always possess a valid visa stamp to return to the U.S. from international travel.
- Know the individual travel situations related to COVID-19 in the country(s) you are traveling to and from and for your particular nationality/visa status: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/COVID-19-Country-Specific-Information.html
- Review current events and issues impacting international travel through our external immigration counsel, Berry, Appleman & Leiden’s web page.
Although we are improving international travel, we wish that the situation were different and that travel to your home country did not pose a level of risk. We are all facing difficult decisions daily as a result of COVID-19. Understandably missing friends and family members abroad is a significant issue for many. Please know that if you would like additional support regarding coping with various issues stemming from the current global state, the U.C. Tang Center offers comprehensive counseling services. The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) helps employees and their family members find solutions to personal and work-related challenges through counseling, consultation, assessment, and referrals. All services are voluntary, confidential, and free of charge.
The H.R. Shared Services and IRSO teams wish you all the best and are here for you as a resource and as your primary point of contact during these ongoing difficult times.