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This story originally appeared on The Vertical
For many international entrepreneurs planning to move their businesses to the U.S. or simply file for a visa extension, these are uncertain times. Consular posts are closed around the world and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have temporarily suspended in-person green card and naturalization interviews. As some domestic offices begin to reopen, USCIS will reduce the number of appointments to ensure social distancing.
Foreign entrepreneurs come to the U.S. on many different visas, including the EB-5 immigrant investor program, the L-1 for intracompany executive transferees, the E-2 treaty investor visa, the O-1 visa for people with extraordinary abilities and many others.
All of these visa categories have different requirements, like hiring employees or renting an office space. Because of COVID-19, many foreign entrepreneurs planning “a big move” haven’t been able to make further investments.
Others, however, feel the window of opportunity has widened. According to Jason Finkelman, an immigration attorney, startups in robotics or those providing solutions in real estate move fast to meet U.S. demand.
In June, USCIS re-introduced premium processing, which is widely used by foreign entrepreneurs. The service, suspended in March, expedites the process to a mere 15 business days instead of the usual months-long process.
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“Trump’s executive order temporarily ‘suspending immigration’ has contributed to the perception that ‘immigration is closed,’” said Joshua Goldstein, founder at Goldstein Immigration Lawyers. But USCIS is still processing new applications.
“We submitted an O-1 visa application in early March just after USCIS discontinued premium processing,” Goldstein said. “I told my client to expect a decision in about six-to-eight months. To my astonishment, his visa application was approved in 23 days.”
Applying for a visa is harder for applicants outside of the U.S. because consulates are shut down and in-person interviews have been delayed. New applicants are getting pushed down the line, leading to longer wait times.
“We are monitoring the situation every day,” said Jordana Hart, the managing attorney with the law firm Hart & Associates. “The consulates will open depending on the situation in their countries: Mexico City, for example, could stay closed longer then Paris.”
Processing times had already increased in the past three years. “Whether you have a cure for cancer or are working on a coronavirus vaccine, it’s just harder to get a visa because the President wants to limit immigration,” said Jason Finkelman.
Although entrepreneurs are the least affected because they are job creators, they also have to deal with extra scrutiny. People on E-2 investor visas who have to travel back and forth for their business report more “questioning” about the time they spend outside of the U.S. “We pay extra attention when justifying our clients’ trips,” said Jordana Hart.
The calls to restrict immigration might get louder because of the looming economic recession, believes Henry Mascia, partner at Rivkin Radler law firm. “Officers are now treating extensions like first time applications, so the renewal process, for example, for an O-1 visa, is increasingly difficult.”
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The election in November adds additional uncertainty to immigration prospects. But there is some good news: An EB-1 extraordinary ability green card is now “current,” meaning it has no backlog and no wait time. “We are preparing green card cases for clients on O-1 who would have otherwise expected to wait several years,” said Joshua Goldstein.
Margo Charnysheva, chair of the immigration practice group at Fennemore Craig, recommends that entrepreneurs not leave if they are currently in the U.S. on a B-1/B2 tourist visa. “Instead, try to change your status to avoid a prolonged wait for an interview at the embassies, because they won’t schedule interviews until mid-June.”
The key in the strict immigration environment is to show that your business has an ability to grow and create jobs. “We push our clients to hire American workers,” said Jordana Hart. Also, preparing your application in advance is crucial. “In the face of so much chaos, you should be proactive,” Joshua Goldstein said. “Don’t wait for the pandemic to end.”
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced a €4.25 billion ($4.75 billion) package to bolster the country’s battered tourism industry.
“The good news is that thanks to how the epidemic has evolved, we’ve been able to move forward the re-opening of our borders,” Sanchez said Thursday at a speech in Madrid, referring to the decision to allow members of the certain European countries to enter Spain freely as of June 21.
Thursday’s announcement follows the 3.75 billion-euro stimulus program for the country’s car industry announced earlier this week, as the government takes steps to shore up key areas of the economy slammed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Executives in the car and tourism industries have been clamoring for additional financial support from Madrid. They say the government’s 100-billion euro loan guarantee program and the funds spent to support millions of furloughed workers, among other emergency aid, have been vital – but still short of what’s needed to weather the unprecedented downturn.
The 4.25-billion euro package includes a previously announced 2.5-billion euro tranche of the government’s loan guarantee program that can be used exclusively by companies in the tourism industry. New measures include 200 million euros for the sector to spend on cleaning and other safety measures and 859 million euros in loans to bolster tourism companies’ digitalization, use of renewable energy and modernization of facilities.
The package also includes a moratorium on mortgage-loan payments for some tourism businesses.
More than 80 million tourists visited Spain last year, making it one of the world’s most popular travel destinations. The blow to such a crucial sector from the pandemic is one reason Spain’s economy is expected to contract more than most of its European neighbors. The Spanish central bank forecasts a worst-case-scenario contraction of as much as 15% this year.
Despite the bleak economic outlook, bond investors have been snapping up Spain’s debt. The Spanish treasury received bids on Thursday that were nearly four times the one billion euros sold, the strongest demand for a 10-year bond auction in four years.
The auction likely benefited from fewer than half the amount of securities being on offer compared to the last sale two weeks ago. Spanish bonds climbed after the sale, with 10-year yields falling nearly four basis points to 0.52%, close to the lowest level since March.
While some German tourists have been allowed to fly directly to Spain’s Balearic Islands as part of a special program, the rest of the country opens up to most European Union visitors on June 21. Most Spaniards still aren’t allowed to travel between provinces as the government slowly eases one of Europe’s strictest confinements.
The shortened summer season has put tens of thousands of jobs at risk. Swathes of the Spanish workforce depend on paychecks earned from May to September to make it through the rest of the year. Sanchez’s government has expanded such workers’ access to unemployment benefits but economists are concerned many will remain jobless – or at least face lower demand for their work – for several years. The Bank of Spain expects the unemployment rate to remain above 17% through at least 2022.
Among Spain’s largest tourism companies are hotel chains Melia Hotels International SA and NH Hotel Group SA, state-controlled airport manager Aena SA, airline booking software firm Amadeus IT Group SA and airline operator International Consolidated Airlines SA’s Iberia unit.
As part of government’s push to support tourism, Aena will be cutting airplane landing fees in Spanish airports, Chairman Maurici Lucena said in an interview published Thursday in newspaper Expansion.
Restaurants and small retail shops – essential to tourism industry – are likely to suffer among the greatest job losses in Spain because of social-distancing restrictions put in place to stem the pandemic, according to a research report published by the Bank of Spain in May.
Workers in those areas don’t have the necessary skills to find jobs in sectors that are likely to see increased demand in the coming months and years, such as e-commerce.
The central bank’s economists are calling for a nationwide re-training program for those workers to ensure Spain’s already high structural unemployment doesn’t surge even higher.