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For almost two years, the world has been grappling with COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory illness that has claimed the lives of more than 5 million people worldwide. In addition to a virulent baseline disease, COVID-19 has also demonstrated an ability to mutate into new strains called variants that can be more easily transmitted and produce more severe illness.

The latest variant has been labeled Omicron and was originally identified in South Africa. The discovery of the omicron variant has sparked concern among global leaders because of the almost 30 mutations found on the spike protein of the new COVID virus. Prior variants have exhibited some of these mutations with varying rates of transmissibility and illness severity, but the omicron variant presents a much greater risk because of the enormous number of changes.

The heightened risk of the omicron variant has prompted many nations around the world to restrict travel from African nations with cases of the new variant. The United States initiated its own set of travel restrictions on Monday, November 29, 2021. It is currently unclear how the new travel restrictions could affect immigration to the U.S. from these African countries.

At Pelton + Balducci, we are fully committed to helping our clients navigate the complicated immigration system. With more than 50 years of combined experience assisting clients obtain asylum, residency or citizenship status, the lawyers of Pelton + Balducci are among New Orleans’ most trusted authorities on immigration law.

Travel Restrictions Details

Although not all of the specifics of the new travel restrictions have been revealed, it is clear that the U.S. will not permit many travelers from the following countries to enter the U.S for at least 14 days:

  • South Africa
  • Botswana
  • Lesoto
  • Eswatini
  • Malawai
  • Mozambique
  • Namibia
  • Tanzania
  • Zimbabwe

These latest travel restrictions will remain in place until at least January 5, 2022. 

U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents are exempt from the travel limitations, although it is still unclear if quarantining or testing requirements will be imposed on newly returned travelers. The previous travel requirement that all entering persons must have proof of a negative COVID-19 test—even for vaccinated people—is still in place.

So far, no major airlines have canceled flights to or from the southern African countries, but many other nations including the European Union are considering this step. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of State raised the alert levels for these 8 nations and recommended that U.S. citizens not travel to these areas.

Omicron Variant’s Impact on Immigration Status

The exact ramifications of the omicron variant on immigration is a mystery for now, but it may be helpful to examine the changes imposed on the immigration system since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After initial entry restrictions on travelers from China, followed by similar measures for Iran and Europe, the U.S. closed non-essential travel with Mexico and Canada. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) halted in-person services at its offices for three months before an incremental reopening. Visa services at consulates around the world were halted or delayed.

Immigration courts have reopened, but the backlog at the courts is considerable enough that delays are to be expected.

Contact a Louisiana immigration attorney today

If you are currently seeking asylum, a work visa or residency in the U.S., it may be best to hire an experienced Louisiana immigration attorney to oversee your application process so that you are not denied or delayed due to an administrative or procedural error. 

The New Orleans firm of Pelton and Balducci has decades of experience helping immigrants begin new lives in the United States. Contact us today to schedule your consultation so we can get started on your case.

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