By KoKo Huang and Gregory McCall

On August 12, 2020, the U.S. Department of State released implementation guidance related to two recent presidential proclamations restricting visa issuance and travel for foreign workers. (Presidential Proclamation 10014 and Presidential Proclamation 10052). In implementing these proclamations, the Department of State, in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, released guidance related to national interest exceptions set out in the presidential proclamations.

Most notably, the August 12 guidance eases restrictions on H-1B specialty occupation and L-1 intra-company transfer visa applicants who are seeking to resume ongoing employment in the United States in the same position with the same employer and visa classification. There are also detailed exceptions for H-1B and L-1 visa applicants related to the applicant’s employment meeting economic recovery, critical infrastructure, public health, or foreign policy criteria. The guidance specifies that spouses and children of H-1B and L-1 applicants, who are applying for H-4 or L-2 visas, are also eligible for the national interest exception when the principal applicant has been granted an exception.

The guidance also sets out specific exceptions for H-2B guest worker and J-1 cultural exchange visa applicants. For immigrant visa applicants subject to Presidential Proclamation 10014, an exception is available for those who are aging out of their current immigrant visa classification before the proclamation expires or within two weeks thereafter.

This guidance is positive news for many employers because it expands who may enter the United States by broadening the exceptions for H-1B and L-1 visa applicants, particularly those who are entering the United States to return to the same employer in the same position and highly skilled and experienced individuals who meet one of the other exceptions.

Legal challenges to the presidential proclamations will likely continue, even with the laxer approach of the Department of State guidance. Please contact us for assistance if you have questions related to your current employees or any prospective employees who may be eligible to enter the United States pursuant to the national interest exception. We are continuing to monitor developments related to the national interest exception and all other COVID-19 immigration-related matters.