Coronavirus, as of March 15, 2020, is leading to mass implementation of “social distancing”, and at the same time life necessitates that people travel, which puts individuals at further risk of exposure. In order to try to stem the spread of the virus in the U.S., President Trump announced a ban under section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This restricts travel to the U.S. of foreign nationals who have been in the Schengen Area or one of 26 countries in Europe with open borders agreements, in the two weeks before the travel ban was announced. The travel ban was subsequently expanded to include the UK and Ireland.

This policy is flawed in many ways. What if someone was in one of those countries before the 14 day period and contracted the virus earlier? What if someone contracted the virus in Asia, Australia, Africa or Latin America? Coronavirus has spread all over the world specifically because infected people have gotten on airplanes.

So how has the administration set up its master plan to minimize the spread of the virus? It is allowing U.S. citizens and green card holders to come back home, but only to thirteen airports. Many foreign exchange students, for example, have had their semesters canceled and want to come home. Since the U.S. can’t restrict its citizens from traveling, it allows them to come home, but in order to really protect passengers, a coronavirus screen should be performed prior to travel, and this is not happening. U.S. citizens and permanent residents are getting screened when they arrive, not before they get on a plane crowded with 300 other passengers who also have not been screened. This means that if just one person has the virus but perhaps is asymptomatic, they could be spreading the disease to all the other passengers and crew members, who of course can then spread it to others.

What happens to passengers when they arrive? Right now they are put in mile-long lines, along with passengers who also might be infected who have arrived from other countries affected by the virus. The first day this policy went into effect there were reports of six-hour wait times for passengers to get through the line to enter the U.S. This significantly increases one’s risk of exposure to the virus only to be subjected to a very basic 60-second check of symptoms, not an actual coronavirus test. People who had just become infected on their flights or while waiting in line to get through passport control and customs would obviously not be symptomatic yet. This makes the screenings largely worthless, with the potential to cause more harm than benefit.

Many people cannot afford to remain overseas of course. My job has always been to advise people on how to enter the U.S. legally and abide by the law. Health comes first and not just one’s health, but the health of all others, which means that we should all try to avoid getting the virus because there is the potential to spread it to others unknowingly. Those who absolutely need to come to the U.S. should do so but must balance their immediate need with the risk of exposure if they do get on a plane.

For all those individuals or companies who have questions about how to maneuver U.S. visas and travel in and out of the U.S. please feel free to contact me at smaggi@smalawyers.com.

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