U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have each announced that Visa Waiver Program (VWP) travelers who have been granted an initial 30-day period of satisfactory departure may apply for an additional 30 days if they remain unable to depart the United States due to COVID-19.
In addition, CBP headquarters confirmed for the first time that Visa Waiver applicants may apply for satisfactory departure at any CBP location nationwide, including local CBP ports of entry and deferred inspection sites. Previously, only a limited number of CBP locations were accepting these requests.
A Closer Look at Satisfactory Departure
Satisfactory departure is a discretionary benefit available to Visa Waiver Program travelers who are unable to timely depart from the United States due to extraordinary circumstances. Requests for satisfactory departure are made with USCIS or CBP and if granted, allow VWP travelers to remain in the United States for 30 days beyond their 90-day VWP limit. This additional time can minimize the chance of VWP travelers overstaying their time in the United States, and beginning to accrue of unlawful presence.
Though only one grant of satisfactory departure is usually afforded to applicants, USCIS and CBP have agreed to consider granting an additional 30 days to applicants in light of the COVID emergency and its related travel restrictions. Grants of satisfactory departure are discretionary; applicants should be prepared to provide documentation of their inability to travel as a result of the COVID emergency. Generally, satisfactory departure requests must be made before the expiration of the person’s current period of admission.
What this Means for Employers and Foreign Nationals
Visa waiver travelers who are able to obtain an additional 30 days of satisfactory departure will have more time to resolve COVID-related travel issues, and delay any violations of status and accrual of unlawful presence in the United States. However, Visa Waiver travelers should also be aware that the grant of satisfactory departure may disrupt their ESTA registration, and they may be required to apply for a B-1/B-2 visa for future business visitor or tourist travel.
Satisfactory departure requests may now be made with any local USCIS office or at any CBP port of entry or deferred inspection site. Though local USCIS offices are closed to the public, it has been reported that they are accepting satisfactory departure requests remotely, facilitated through the general USCIS Contact Center. Applications made at CBP ports of entry and deferred inspection sites may have varying processes and procedures for the time being, and applicants may be required to follow site-specific protocols.