The COVID-19 pandemic was hard on foreign nationals who wanted to unite with their fiancés or spouses in the U.S., but were stranded abroad due to travel restrictions. With routine visa services suspended worldwide last year, the White House issued five proclamations restricting the entry of some immigrants and nonimmigrants from certain countries. But the scenario is not as bad now as it was last year.

More normalized visa appointment services have started up again in many U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the world. And U.S. consular posts have been authorized to give relatively high priority when scheduling visa interviews for spouses and fiancés of American citizens who want to join their loved ones in the United States. Beyond that, national interest exceptions have allowed some foreign nationals to enter the U.S. despite regional COVID-19 proclamations. So foreign national spouses and fiancés of U.S. citizens are now facing less barriers to entering the country.

In April, the U.S. Department of State explained that it will apply a tiered approach when processing immigrant visa applications to improve processing logistics. Those categories are listed below in order of priority:

  • Tier One: Immediate relative intercountry adoption visas, age-out cases (cases where the applicant will soon no longer qualify due to their age), certain Special Immigrant Visas (SQ and SI for Afghan and Iraqi nationals working with the U.S. government), and emergency cases as determined on a case-by-case basis.
  • Tier Two: Immediate relative, fiancé(e) and returning resident visas
  • Tier Three: Family preference immigrant visas and SE Special Immigrant Visas for certain employees of the U.S. government abroad
  • Tier Four: All other immigrant visas, including employment preference and diversity visas

Recently, on Sept. 2, a D.C. federal judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Department of State over the slow processing of K-1 fiancé visas during the pandemic. The judge agreed with the government that the case is now moot because K-1 visas were given a high-priority designation. So the improved climate for fiancés who seek to enter the U.S. has even been recognized by the courts.

Spouses of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents are expressly exempt from the regional COVID-19 proclamations. Further, the proclamations provide that entry restrictions would not apply to “any alien whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their designees.” On April 8, the Secretary of State granted all K-visa applicants a national interest exemption under the proclamations. Therefore, while the pandemic created an unfortunate visa backlog, the U.S. government has now made family unity a priority and is trying to ease delays for spouses and fiancés of U.S. citizens.