Dear Tripped Up,
I am an American citizen who arrived in Mexico in January on a Forma Migratoria Múltiple, the country’s standard 180-day visitor’s permit. My daughter lives there as a temporary resident, so I’d like to stay — and, besides, I really don’t want to fly back to the States during a global pandemic. Are you aware of any concessions or extensions for travelers who, for reasons relating to Covid-19, hunkered down abroad and now realize they have overstayed their welcome? Cisco
The coronavirus and its torrent of travel restrictions have affected Americans abroad in numerous ways — early on, when flights were suspended with the flick of a switch, many travelers reported getting stuck while others scrambled to get seats on repatriation flights.
Visas and permits, broadly speaking, allow nonresidents to legally visit or live in another country. The types of visas and permits, and the regulations that back them up, are vast and varied. For example, one can apply for a tourist visa, a medical visa, a student visa, a spouse visa — the list goes on. In general, foreigners must leave the country before their visa expires, or else they risk being fined, deported or subjected to other immigration enforcement measures.
The important thing to remember is that visa policies are controlled by individual host countries, not the United States. There has been no blanket policy about how to handle visa extensions globally, even with the pandemic.
Confronting the realities of the coronavirus, certain countries have softened their rules and shown more flexibility than normal. This spring, the European Commission released guidelines encouraging its member states to be lenient with visa extensions during the pandemic. Laos has also been granting one-month visa extensions to American citizens, as has the Philippines, which waived penalties and fines for foreigners who applied for the extension within a certain window of time.
Beyond the State Department’s list of United States Embassies abroad, there is no centralized resource for the country-by-country visa-extension policies during the pandemic, and things continue to shift as travel restrictions change. For example, nonresident foreigners who were unable to depart Morocco within the normal 90-day visa limit were able to leave without a fine through mid August. (An extension of that window has not yet been announced.)
The most flexible visa-extension policies have tended to crop up in countries where travel restrictions have made it difficult or impossible for foreign nationals to return home. That’s not the case for Mexico, where there are continued commercial flights (on several major carriers) to the United States. Additionally, the current restrictions that limit nonessential travel over land across the United States-Mexico border explicitly do not apply to any American citizens returning home.
When I reached out to the State Department about your case, a spokeswoman told me that any Americans stuck abroad who have outstayed their visa must contact local immigration authorities; in your case, the National Institution of Migration, in Mexico City.
When I called I.N.M., a representative told me to contact the Consulate General of Mexico in New York. A representative at the consulate gave me a bit of brighter news: There are certain cases in which a visitor’s permit can be exchanged for a temporary resident visa, which would allow you to stay in Mexico for up to four years. One such case is “family unity,” including when “the applicant has a foreign child who holds a temporary resident or temporary student resident visa.” The agency reviews each application case by case, and the next steps are pretty standard: You’ll need to fill out a mountain of paperwork, gather supporting documents and apply in person (likely with your daughter by your side) at your regional I.N.M. office.
The irony is that countries across the globe are now loosening their visa programs even further in an effort to kick-start tourism. Egypt is making it possible to visit certain parts of the country without a tourist visa. Barbados recently announced the Barbados Welcome Stamp, a yearlong visa for anyone who wants to work remotely from a Caribbean island — and that’s one version of “getting stuck” that I might welcome.
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