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Dec 22, 2020

State Department Reverts to Phase 1 COVID-19 Guidelines as Cases Surge

Gregory J. Eck

The U.S. State Department announced on Monday, December 21, that it was reverting back to Phase 1 Covid-19 guidelines for the National Capital Region, which include limiting travel to mission critical trips and putting restrictions on the size of gatherings, according to a department-wide memo from Brian Bulatao,  Under Secretary for Management. The plan is to return from Phase 2 guidelines to the more restrictive Phase 1 for almost a month.

Phase 1 only allows up to 40% of the workforce to work onsite, a major reduction from Phase 2 which allows up to 80% of employees to return to work onsite. Phase 2 also allowed for small group gatherings, while Phase 1 does not allow for congregating in groups any larger than 10 people when social distancing cannot be achieved.

The  move comes as the US government begins to receive and distribute a limited number of Covid-19 vaccine doses, and as the infections, hospitalizations and deaths around the country increase to record levels.  This move to Phase 1 limits official travel to “mission critical movements”  only and adds additional restrictions to visitor access, size of gatherings, and public facing Consular operations. Bulatao also stated that "Supervisors should continue to ensure that mission critical work requiring in-office presence within Phase 1 guidelines continues in order to support our global operations and serve the American people.” The State Department will return to Phase 2 for the National Capital Region on Monday, January 18, while it evaluates data and assesses local health conditions on an ongoing basis.

What does this mean for consular processing overseas?  With a reduction in staff, we will likely see a reduction in the availability of visa appointments and an increase number of cancellations of appointments previously scheduled.  Immigration practitioners have reported that clients both in the U.S. and overseas are experiencing this already, as they struggle to find a consulate abroad that is open and able to accommodate a visa appointment. The Bulatao memo confirms that the increase in COVID cases nationwide - and globally - has affected consular operations across the State Department’s operations globally.  Green and Spiegel continues to seek creative solutions for our clients faced with restrictions in visa interview appointments globally.  We anticipate that the State Department will continue to cancel appointments and/or limit availability, which will require careful planning and creative use of alternatives. 

Green and Spiegel will continue to monitor and report on any developments. Please contact us if you have any immediate need for assistance.

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