Border closure puts Jamaicans in US visa limbo

Border closure puts Jamaicans in US visa limbo

Thursday, April 02, 2020

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JAMAICA'S Ambassador to the United States Audrey Marks says the embassy is working to assist“out-of-status” Jamaicans in that country, after Prime Minister Andrew Holness last month announced several measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, including the closure of the country's ports to incoming passengers.

Scores of Jamaicans were, as a result, left stranded overseas, following the order which took effect on March 24.

Marks, who was the host of a digital town hall meeting Tuesday evening that included representatives from the Global Jamaica Diaspora Council-Northeast, told viewers that the embassy is “in touch” with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the US Embassy in Jamaica to assist them.

USCIS is a component of the United States Department of Homeland Security that administers the country's naturalisation and immigration system.

Concerns were raised by several people on the feed who requested advice on how to proceed should their B1/B2 tourist visas expire before travel restrictions are lifted.

“We're actually asking persons who are in that situation to contact us at the embassy and we're responding by e-mail to explain what they can do if you are potentially out of status.

“The USCIS and the embassy in Jamaica, they have assured us that they are prepared to work with persons because clearly they know that you're not able to travel at this time.

“[However], it's important that you show that you had made arrangements to leave by a certain time if your visa would have been up during this period, and if you're in other situations where you need to apply for extension you're encouraged to go ahead and still apply online. So we have a whole set of information to share for persons so that they know what they can do for their particular situation, whether they're visitors or students or workers,” said Marks.

According the USCIS' website, discretion is applied in the event of “natural catastrophes and other extreme situations”, which sometimes affect the processing of USCIS application, petition, or immigration request.

It said when applying for an extension or change of status due to a special situation that prevented a planned and timely departure, “we may take into consideration how the special situation prevented your departure. If you do not apply for the extension or change of status before your authorised period of admission expires, we may excuse the delay if it was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond your control”.

Marks said that it is critical that Jamaicans, who are out of status, or will soon be out of status, “send a note to the embassy so we can respond to you”.

On March 20, Holness announced the closure of the country's borders to incoming passengers in the fight against the coronavirus disease that has so far claimed three lives and infected 44 people.

The order took effect on March 21 but an extension was granted for individuals to come into the island until March 24. It is scheduled to last for 14 days but could be extended.

— Kimone Francis

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