The U.S. Department of State’s U.S. Mission China Consular Services announced on December 15, 2022, that all routine visa services would be indefinitely suspended. As of December 19, 2022, routine visa appointments at all U.S. consulate offices in China have been canceled, with the exception of some visa appointments already scheduled at the U.S. consulate in Shanghai. The U.S. consulate offices in Wuhan, Shenyang, and Guangzhou will provide emergency consular services only. The U.S. embassy in Beijing and the U.S. consulate general in Shanghai are further limited to providing passport and emergency services for U.S. citizens. Additionally, the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, which is the only U.S. consulate in China that processes immigrant visas, has confirmed all immigrant visa services have been suspended and all existing visa appointments have been canceled. Applicants for nonimmigrant visas may reschedule their appointments on the U.S. consulate’s visa appointment website. Immigrant visa applicants will be notified by the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou to reschedule their appointments once normal operations have resumed.
The latest broad suspension of visa services by the U.S. consulates in China was triggered by operational impacts stemming from a recent surge in COVID-19 cases in China, with experts estimating that up to 800 million people may be infected by COVID-19 this winter with possibly half a million to as many as 1 million deaths in 2023.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe effect on overseas travel and U.S. consular operations since January 2020 when the first COVID-19–related U.S. travel restriction banning travelers who were physically in China from entering the United States was announced. Routine visa services in China were suspended on February 10, 2020, and did not resume until November 9, 2021, when the travel ban was finally lifted. Due to COVID-19 pandemic conditions and country-specific response measures, including travel restrictions and lockdowns, there continues to be a significant delay in visa processing despite the efforts of the State Department and U.S. consulates worldwide.
While the length of this latest service suspension is yet to be determined, a large number of travelers during the peak of the holiday travel season may be impacted. Visa applicants will likely experience further delays in scheduling visa interviews and visa issuance. Foreign nationals who are planning to travel from the United States to visit China in the coming weeks may wish to postpone their trips if they do not already possess valid visas for their return to the United States.
Ogletree Deakins’ Immigration Practice Group will continue to monitor developments with respect to these and other policy changes and will post updates on the Immigration blog as additional information becomes available. Important information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar and podcast programs.