By Melissa Chavin
For a long time the State Department appeared to “give up” the ghost with grading foreign countries based on their danger for US persons to visit. They kept the Global Travel Advisory Level at 4 “Do Not Travel” and allowed their staff to depart and come to the United States. This left embassies and consulates bereft and unable to sustain normal visa issuance. They focused on a few mission critical tasks and helping US citizens with emergency passports and urgent visas for their immediate relatives.
As of August 6, 2020, the State Department began grading travel advisories by country again, dependent in part on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance.  How is the United Kingdom faring in this grading system? How does its global travel advisory level translate to American visa issuance?
Low Travel Advisory Caution Levels
Some countries have a discrepancy between the level of caution for travel and what the CDC recommends. For example, New Zealand and Thailand are at Level 1 - Exercise Normal Precautions per CDC health guidance, but at Level 2 - Exercise Increased Caution, under State Department guidance. This is likely because New Zealand and Thailand are imposing travel restrictions on in-bound movement.
Only two countries have Level 1 travel advisories: Macau and Taiwan. Very few have Level 2 travel advisories. They include Hong Kong, Fiji, and Mauritius, as well as the Kingdom of Brunei and Antarctica (due to unpredictable weather!).
Travel Advisory for United Kingdom and Its Effect for the US Embassy in London
The United Kingdom is listed under the Level 3 travel advisory countries “Reconsider Travel” and has a Level 3 Travel Health Notice due to Covid-19 from the CDC. At this level, the State Department is likely still not calling back its full staff of consular officers from the United States to help with visa processing.
The US Embassy in London and the US Consulate in Belfast have been closed for routine visa appointments since March 17, 2020. They also did not accept visa applications for renewal of visas, where an interview was not needed (interview waiver applications). They were reviewing requests for appointments only through interview scheduling accounts based on the Yatri software platform, and granting them rarely.
July 27, 2020, the US Embassy in London, and August 3, 2020, the Consulate in Belfast re-opened partially. Their visa interview calendars contained appointment slots for F-1 and M-1 student categories and for immigrant visas for spouses and children of US citizens. F-1 students do not need a national interest exemption (NIE) to travel directly to the UK despite the Presidential Proclamation restricting travel. Other visa categories do need NIEs, and applicants will need to especially request visa appointments with an argument that they qualify for an NIE. Contact an immigration attorney, if you need a visa application appointment.