Visa Processing Status at the US Embassy, Manila

Is there a force to harness to have the U.S Embassy in Manila resume visa services?

Other than force majeure or Act of God, what else is there?

A History of Service Interruption and Phased Resumption

Two main factors contributed to the massive backlog of immigrant visa applications at the National Visa Center and the US Embassy in Manila.

Covid-19 happened, leading to the World Health Organization declaring the pandemic on March 11, 2020.

Second, four years before that, Mr. Donald Trump occupied the White House on the winds of immigrant aversion and disdain, especially those coming from Mexico and Central America labeled as “drug addicts, criminals, and rapists.. hordes of migrants overwhelming the border.”

President Trump’s Presidential Proclamations banning immigrants, nonimmigrants, and U.S. Embassy cancellations of visa services

As coronavirus ravaged the US population and catapulted the country to the top of infected nations, Mr. Trump issued twin proclamations citing COVID-19 and immigrants’ threat to the health and wealth of Americans.

For 2020

April 22                      Presidential Proclamation 10014 issued.

June 10                       Visa Appointment Cancelation Through July 3

June 22                       Presidential Proclamation 10052 issued, amending Section 1 of PP 1004, and including a ban on admission of nonimmigrants seeking H-1B, H-2B, J, and L visas

July 28                       Visa Appointment Cancelation through August 28, 2020

August 28                  Cancelation of Certain Nonimmigrant Visa Appointments Through September 30, 2020

September 25           Cancelation of Certain Nonimmigrant Visa Appointments Through October 30

October 28                Cancelation of Certain Nonimmigrant Visa Appointments Through November 30

November 25            The U.S. Embassy in the Philippines has canceled nonimmigrant B1/B2 (Business/Tourist) visa interview appointments scheduled through December 31

December 18             Cancelation of Certain Nonimmigrant Visa Appointments through January 29, 2021 

December 31             Presidential Proclamation 10131 – Extended the validity and scope of immigrants and nonimmigrants barred from entry into the U.S. under the revised Section of PP 10014 and 10052

For 2021

January 5                   Embassy canceled all visa appointments scheduled through March 31 for H-1B, H-2B, L-1, J applicants participating in the intern, trainee, teacher, camp counselor, au pair, or summer work travel program, and any spouses or children of covered applicants applying for H-4, L-2, or J-2 visas

January 25                 Cancelation of B1/B2 (Business/Tourist) Visa Appointments through February 26, 2021 

A new administration steps in

February 24               President Joe Biden issues a proclamation revoking the ban on immigrants and nonimmigrants covered by the revised Section 1 of 10014 and 10052

February 24               Still on the same date (Philippine time) Cancellation of nonimmigrant B1/B2 (Business/Tourist) visa interview appointments scheduled through March 31, 2021

March 17                    Cancelation of B1/B2 (Business/Tourist) Visa Appointments through April 30, 2021

April 19                      Cancelation of B1/B2 (Business/Tourist) Visa Appointments through May 31, 2021

May 21                       Cancelation of B1/B2 (Business/Tourist) Visa Appointments through June 30, 2021

June 21                       Cancelation of B1/B2 (Business/Tourist) Visa Appointments through July 30, 2021

I may have missed some dates, including the announcement of the extension to accept nonimmigrant visa fee payments to September 2022 because of the pandemic.

Notice that the announcement of visa cancellations came days before the US Embassy set the previous deadline. Applicants need not worry, though. This move is not to keep them at bay.

The Embassy needs the appropriate number of staff and consular officers to serve applicants and conduct and facilitate interviews efficiently. With a fluid nationwide pandemic, particularly in the National Capital Region, the Embassy has no choice but to monitor the COVID-19 status.

The US Embassy based decisions on the quarantine protocols and announcements of the Philippine government based on information from two sources:

  • The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, or IATF-EID and
  • Directly from the Office of the President of the Philippines or the Department of Health.

US Embassy Visa Operations

At the time of writing, “routine visa services remain suspended due to precautions and limited resources due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The US Embassy in the Philippines operates on reduced staffing and continually evaluates the conditions necessary to resume complete services.

As conditions surrounding the COVID-19 situation improve, the Embassy will have additional services, culminating in a complete resumption of routine visa services. The Embassy cannot predict when the resumption of complete visa services or a specific set of visa cases will resume.

Revisiting the premise then: is there a force that will enable the US Embassy to resume regular visa services?

Several factors consolidating into one force come to mind:

  1. Strict compliance of Filipinos to quarantine protocols as they are issued;
  2. Efficient coordination of Philippine government, from the Executive Office to all concerned departments;
  3. Availability of vaccines;
  4. Vaccination of all age groups and sectors to reach a significant level of herd immunity making the spread of disease unlikely and protect the whole community, not just the immune.

People power then.