Guidelines for Participants of the Visa Waiver Program During COVID-19

April 28, 2020 § Leave a comment

If you are a citizen of these following countries and you are in the US as a visitor for personal or work reasons that last less than 90 days (for citizens of Canada and Bermuda, the duration can be up to six months), you are very likely in the US via the Visa Wavier Program (VWP):

  • Andorra
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Brunei
  • Chile
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Monaco
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • San Marino
  • Singapore
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • United Kingdom
  • Canada
  • Bermuda

As the name of the program suggests, foreign citizens of the countries participating in VWP can enter the US without a US visitor (B-1/B-2) visa. While this program provides a lot of convenience for citizens of these countries, it also creates problems during the COVID-19 pandemic when flights and other means of international transportation become unavailable. While individuals participating in VWP do not need a visa, they are also generally not allowed to change immigration status or request an extension during their stay in the US. Under normal circumstances, these individuals must depart the US if their 90-day (or 6-month for Canadians and Bermudians) period end. Under the special circumstances of COVID-19, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that individuals with VWP can request Satisfactory Departure, which will allow them to stay in the US for another 30 days if their departures are interrupted due to COVID-19. Here are some step by step guidelines on making a request:

  1. The SD (satisfactory departure) requestor should contact the USCIS Contact Center indicating that they wish to request SD. The phone number for the USCIS Contact Center is 800-375-5283.
  2. The USCIS Contact Center representative will ask limited questions to determine if the requestor appears eligible (e.g. admitted visa waiver, applying timely).
  3. The USCIS Contact Center representative will then instruct the requestor to send an e-mail to them with “SD” in the subject line and to include an image of their passport biographic page(s), reason for requesting SD, and any additional contact information. The email should include the following:
    • Date and place most recently entered the United States on a visa waiver;
    • Reason for requesting Satisfactory Departure;
    • Contact information;
    • An image (attachment) of the biographic page(s) of their passport.
    • The USCIS Contact Center will then forward that e-mail to the USCIS Field Office located nearest to the requestor.
  4. A designated “SD officer” at the USCIS Field Office will review the documentation and then process the request and notify the applicant of the decision by creating a Service Request Management Tool (SRMT) number and emailing the applicant.
  5. Satisfactory departure requests may be made at any CBP POE or DI site, regardless of the individual’s initial port of arrival.
  6. For VWP entrants currently granted a period of satisfactory departure but remain unable to depart the United States due to complications brought on by COVID-19, CBP, in its discretion, may offer an additional satisfactory departure period of 30 days in order to avoid the entrants from accruing unlawful presence.

Perhaps due to the current USCIS field office closures during COVID-19, the USCIS call center’s customer wait time is rather brief. Therefore, if you entered the US with VWP and your planned departure is interrupted by COVID-19, consider contacting USCIS as soon as possible.

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