WASHINGTON DC, NETRALNEWS - The United States (US) has suspended all routine visa services in most countries around the world due to the coronavirus outbreak.
A State Department spokesman said the unprecedented move could potentially affect hundreds of thousands of people.
The department did not say how many countries will have the services stopped. However, US missions in more than half a dozen countries, including South Korea, South Africa, Germany, and Spain, have stopped or significantly reduced their services.
"Embassies and consulates in these countries will cancel all regular immigrant and non-immigrant visa applications until a later date," the spokesman said.
A State Department spokesman said US missions overseas would continue to provide emergency visa services "if resources permit," and that services to US citizens would remain available.
"The embassies will resume routine visa services as soon as possible, but cannot provide a specific date at this time," he said. There are no exceptions for any type of visa.
In 2019, the United States had issued a total of more than 9.2 million immigrant and non-immigrant visas in more than 160 foreign missions worldwide.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus, which emerged in China late last year, has now infected more than 212,000 people and caused 8,700 deaths in 164 countries, triggering emergency isolation and cash injections unseen on since World War Two.
Normal life has come to a standstill almost all over the world, with schools closed, airlines and industry stopped, sports and art events have been postponed and people are advised or sometimes forced by their governments to stay indoors to prevent spreading.
Overnight, the US Embassy in South Korea in a statement said the suspension would affect immigrant and non-immigrant visa services at embassies in countries with US Department of State travel appeal levels at level 2, 3, or 4.
The spokesman said the move would not affect the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which allows citizens from countries to travel to the United States for tourists or businesses (visa visitor destinations) to stay for 90 days or less without obtaining a visa.
The US restrictions can affect several industries.
In Mexico, for example, visa suspension could mean a sharp decline in the number of seasonal guest workers who issue US visas, something that can hurt food supplies as consumers hoard food to isolate themselves to slow down the spread of the virus.
As reported by Reuters, the US government is considering options to allow seasonal guest workers from Mexico in time to harvest fruit and vegetables this year.