I am a UK (and dual Polish) citizen, currently based in the UK. I was due to start a tenure-track academic job at a US university last year on an H1B visa, but after the pandemic hit, my visa appointment was cancelled, President Trump issued the H1B suspension, and I am still stuck here in the UK a year on.
My situation is a bit complicated, but let me try to summarize the main points below before asking some specific questions. Any information or advice is welcomed. Thank you!
-The initial phases of the visa process are already done: the petition is approved and I have the I-797B notice of action. I have been told the job offer is secure.
- I currently have *two* active DS-160s, and *two* corresponding scheduled visa appointments.
-- The first is at the US embassy in London which is in August this year. That appointment was made back in the summer of 2020.
--The second is at the US embassy in Warsaw, currently scheduled for early May. That appointment was made a couple of months ago.
-Both embassies currently have a message to the effect of: "we will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time." However, my impression is that the London embassy is significantly less functional:
When I scheduled the appointment there, the date was over a year in the future. If I wanted to reschedule today, the next available date is in February 2022(!). On the other hand, at the embassy in Warsaw I can apparently reschedule my appointment for a multitude of dates, including 7th April. This is basically the reason why I was advised (by lawyers) to start the second application in Warsaw (Poland was picked as I happen to be a dual citizen, which I was told could be relevant).
- Currently H1B visas are suspended as per presidential proclamations 10052 and 10131. This was a major obstruction which lead me to put my quest on hold back in June last year. However, these restrictions are due to expire on 31st March. (Unlike the green card restrictions, the H1B restrictions were not covered by President Biden's actions at the end of February.)
- I am aware of the covid related travel restrictions, but this post is just about obtaining the visa stamp in my passport - I will consider the travel as a separate problem.
- The lawyers hired by my employer to advise on my case have offered to apply for an expedited appointment on my behalf (at either or both relevant embassies). I am an academic working in pure mathematics - I get the sense from them that this is a bit of a long shot in my case. This process has not been started however (in the hope that the usual route in Poland will suffice).
- Also in case it is relevant: I am in my mid-30's with no underlying conditions. Consequently I have not been vaccinated yet, but plan to do so once it is offered to me as part of the UK rollout. I am happy to take a covid test (and cover any costs) if/when necessary. I am in good health generally.
- In case it is relevant, I have spent a lot of time in the US and held F1 and J1 visas in the past, but have been back in the UK since 2018. This is my first H1B visa. As far as I can tell, nothing about my case itself is problematic or unusual. If it weren't for the pandemic, I wouldn't have expected any issues getting this visa.
I would really like to be in the US by August this year, and ideally want to get the visa sorted as soon as possible. I don't mind which consulate the visa comes from, and I am willing to travel, quarantine, and/or incur expenses if it means I have a better chance of getting the visa in a reasonable amount of time.
Of the two embassy locations I have discussed, here are some potential problems.
In the first place, the August appointment date is a little late for my liking. I would have to really rush to make the start of term (and who knows if I will have to take some complicated route, with multiple quarantines...). But more importantly, I am skeptical about the prospects of the appointment going ahead at all.
From what I can tell, the embassy appears to have had severe problems throughout the pandemic period. I am not sure if they have had any "routine" visa appointments since March last year and I can see no information containing any plans (I would be interested if someone has any evidence or information one way or the other). I imagine they have an immense backlog. The fact that they are scheduling appointments for over a year in the future does not inspire me with confidence.
On the plus side, it is relatively easy for me to get there...
As I said, they seem to have availability. I get the impression that they have been issuing some routine visas at some point during the last year. However, it is not clear to me whether they are currently in regular operation: the message on their website appears to contradict the availability of appointments.
Also, Poland appears to be entering a bad third wave of coronavirus and new lockdown measures were imposed. I am not sure to what extent these measure effect the running of the embassy.
There is then the issue of travelling from the UK to Poland. On the UK regulations side, I am hopeful that my travel plans could reasonably be classified as essential for work purposes. I can procure a letter from my (future) employer to this effect. Getting back in to the UK could be a problem if Poland is added to the red list, but honestly a quarantine hotel stay is a price I am willing to pay if it means I have a visa in hand.
On the Polish regulations side, I believe that my Polish citizenship gives me the basic grounds to enter the country, and as per current rules I can provide a negative covid test to avoid quarantine. I have close family in Warsaw I could stay with.
- If neither of these plans are going to work, I am still interested in either the possibility of yet another embassy location, or getting an expedited appointment.
As I say, any advice on how to increase my chances of getting a visa are welcomed, but here are a few specific questions that I would appreciate help with.
1) Is there any evidence that the Warsaw embassy is actually carrying out routine visa appointments right now? If I booked an appointment for April 7th, would it just be cancelled - and if so, at what point would I find that out? Of course, I don't want to make a difficult, expensive, and risky trip for no reason...
2) Is there any point in applying for an expedited appointment (at either location)? (I appreciate this one is hard to answer without more specifics, but any anecdotal information would be helpful).
3) Is it possible that I could apply for an embassy appointment in yet another country? (i.e. fill out a third DS-160, pay a third MRV fee etc.)
I was told that the US embassy in some countries will not offer services to "third country nationals" which is the main reason I went with Poland (and the UK obviously). But I have a hard time finding out any solid information on this. In the same vein, it seems to me that you can go through the entire appointment booking process without a human actually reading your application. So even if the embassy did not allow third country national applications, when might I find that out (i.e. would they let me travel across the world for an appointment to turn me down on those grounds?).
4) Do I have any other options that have not been mentioned?
Thanks again for your patience and help!