The Biden administration continues to undo the expansive immigration restrictions put in place by the former president. The latest measure to fall: Presidential Proclamation 10014, an economically-based suspension initiated on April 22, 2020, which barred many new permanent residents from entering the United States as permanent residents (“green card holders”). The Presidential Action of February 24, 2021 puts an immediate end to this twice-extended suspension in advance of its slated expiration date of March 31, 2021.

Economic Travel Suspension: Extensions and Impact

As explained in our April 23, 2020 Client Alert, “COVID-19 Immigration Suspension Proclamation Has Limited Scope,” the impact of Proclamation 10014 was initially muted due to the practical realities of consular closures. However, in time, its broad provisions and the freeze on action on these cases created substantial backlogs, family separation, and notable litigation related to the time-bound immigrant visa lottery category. The impact to visa lottery candidates, who lose visa eligibility if their cases are not processed within set fiscal year time frames, was specifically mentioned in the revocation of Proclamation 10014. The revocation stated that Proclamation 10014 (and subsequent extensions) harmed the United States, rather than advancing national interests. The harm cited was both family separation and economic harm to industries which depend upon global talent.

Consular Re-openings and Backlogs

While many will be relieved by the termination of the immigrant visa restrictions, there are still backlogs numbering in the hundreds of thousands of cases which have built up over the duration of the consular closures and travel suspension. Moreover, the level of consular operations varies from country to country, depending upon factors including the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in each location. While many consulates that ceased visa processing due to COVID-19 are now able to provide visa services, as of this writing, these services are generally limited or provided on an emergency-only basis.

Non-Immigrant Travel Suspensions Remains

It is notable that President Biden’s revocation only applied to the immigrant visa suspension. It did not eliminate the related suspension of entry and visa issuance to specified temporary, non-immigrant visa categories which were discussed in our June 26, 2020 Client Alert, “Presidential Proclamation Suspends Select Non-immigrant Entry.” This proclamation, which applies to key temporary categories, including H-1B, L-1 and certain J-1 subcategories, is set to expire on March 31, 2021.

Conclusion: Health Related Restrictions Continue

The Biden administration is doing away with many Trump-era immigration restrictions, but notably, has retained geographic travel suspensions. These suspensions are grounded in health concerns related to the spread of COVID-19 by travel to the US from high-risk areas. These restrictions, barring entry to the United States within 14 days of travel apply to Brazil, China, Iran, the UK, Ireland, European countries in the Schengen area and—most recently—South Africa. These health-based restrictions can be distinguished from other restrictions which, while couched in economic terms, were understood to be a reflection of the former president’s restrictive immigration policies.