Innumerable business sectors are struggling to curb the spread of the virus and contain the infection. This sudden spread has proven to be the major menace to the global economy and financial markets. In these tough times patience and persistence can aid business to find alternate pathways to reach out to their customers. In this crisis, many companies have adhered to the norms for public safety leading to close offices alongside perpetuating the work and to understand how the crisis has changed the game. Immigration support services industry too is not out of the line.
United States proclamation on immigration amidst the global economic crisis and rising number of COVID-19 cases in the United States, made the immigration services landscape rapidly drifting throughout the world. Multinational companies have struggled to accomplish both their native workforce and worldwide mobility programs. In the United states, as early as the end of the first month in 2020, the entry of all travellers from various deeply virus infected nations except for the U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, as well as certain close relatives.
The Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs (ECA) paused international exchange programs that involve travel to and from countries that the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared high level of travel risk. American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) shut filings due and stated “will be considered timely filed if received on the court’s next business day.” Certain government offices cancelled and postponed naturalization ceremonies.
USCIS insisted on considering, cancelling or rescheduling any appointment at a physical office, if any person may have been exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing flu-like symptoms or recently visited a country designated a high-level risk in terms of spread of coronavirus. In Mexico, routine immigrant and non-immigrant visa services at the U.S. Embassy and Consulates were suspended. USCIS office was shut down until any further notice delaying and postponing all the immigration approvals.
United States and Mexico restricted all “non-essential” travel across its borders. Chinese workers, who accounted for almost a quarter chunk of H1-B visas issued in 2019, lost their jobs due to the pandemic at a rate that outperformed the 2008 recession. Losing jobs, made them lose their visa status. Those who decide to return home to China couldn’t because tickets are too expensive. The Department of State (DOS) released Visa Bulletin stating the, EB-3 categories had normal retrogression thereby making it unavailable for the remainder of the fiscal year.
The closure of consular services all around the world has led to a de facto suspension ofimmigration services and issuance of new visas and permits abroad for most countries. However, about half of OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries still process visa or permit applications in the country, notably for acquisition of permanent/long-term residence or renewals, while others only process applications on an exceptional basis. Even in countries still processing visa applications, immigration services and their offices are closed or operating under restricted access to the public, leading to delays. In-person meetings and interviews, biometric appointments and medical checks are largely suspended. Option for online or postal applications have been made available in a few countries.
All of the above factors and the current market scenario boils down to the fact that gradual exits from lockdowns in most affected countries will not lead to a quick return to “business as usual” in terms of migration management and immigration support service providers, as the consular services in majority of the countries will remain inaccessible, accumulations may appear in the processing of visa applications for most categories of migration.
Surfeits may also appear for asylum applications due to the limited mobility of persons and pause on immigration support companies’ operations during the pandemic. Pending work authorisations may be barred due to changes in the labour market situation either because the employer no longer needs the worker, or because a scrawnier post-pandemic labour market leads to more limitations on recruitment from abroad. Students might be unable to complete their studies within the period foreseen by their visa.
Migrants, regardless of their status, may find themselves unable to depart and end up overstaying their visa, making them ineligible for further extensions. Those who benefited from the temporary, pandemic-related extension of their visa, may find themselves in an uncertain situation at the end of the shutdown, with limited prospects for return. Highly skilled potential migrants might reconsider their options and cancel or delay their migration projects. Similarly, firms may be less persuaded to sponsor intra-corporate transfers and international placements.
Return operations are likely to remain complicated by restrictions worldwide for many months to come. Bouncing back to normalcy, for immigration support companies and the migrants awaiting migrationis also likely dependent on various factors, including border restrictions, flight availability, the capacity of migration offices and international partners. This raises concerns regarding the increased vulnerability of refugees if operations remain suspended or delayed for a long time.
Lastly, the disruption of settlement services, as well as their adjustment to a combination of virtual settings and in-person services with physical distancing, may have longer-term negative impacts on the integration prospects of recently arrived immigrants.