CONSIDER Winnie, a US immigrant visa applicant who had been considered documentarily qualified (DQ) after having submitted all the documents, paid all the visa fees, etc., almost two years ago.

Picture her in several group chats ("ward support groups") with best friends forever Paula, Gina and Desi, all of whom also have their own visa applications. The members in the chat groups are all DQ and they keep comparing notes about the email notices they receive from the National Visa Center (NVC).

The group chatters also monitor the US Embassy website for announcements on visa appointments. They have bookmarked the page and synced on all their devices. In addition, they scan the web for visa news, blogs and other chat groups who have visa petitions in various stages of visa documentation with the NVC.

They exchange copies of the first 30-day notice received from NVC. Then, before the end of that 30-day period, they receive a 60-day notice. Halfway into that 60-day period, NVC announced a system maintenance check, and — horrors! — they cannot access their visa cases.

On top of this, they read about the ever-changing protocols and policies on curfew in the Philippines: who may be able to move from one locked-down area to another, whether they would need masks and shields outdoors or not.

With frayed nerves, the group chatters are in denial that the US Manila embassy has to contend with the Covid-19 situation and protocols. To protect the consular officers, embassy staff and visa applicants, the embassy adheres to the State Department instructions on visa operations, announcing almost a monthly cancellation of visa appointments.

Winnie and friend-chatters were aghast when the first report from the US State Department showed an alarming increase of DQ applicants — from 73,000 in February 2020 to more than 400,000 in July.

The succeeding monthly reports from the Bureau of Consular Affairs show the number of eligible immigrant visa applicants still close to half a million in October.

What happens now to their expiring National Bureau of Investigation clearances? Do they resign from work, cancel a trip and ignore a new job opening for fear that once they are out of Metro Manila or out of the country, the much-awaited interview notice will come?

Each member of the Winnie chat group asks each other the same questions, over and over, expecting a different answer.

They also have been egged on by the petitioner and other relatives in the United States to check with NVC and the embassy because of uncertainty in the petitioner and/or joint sponsor's employment. Should the petitioner or joint sponsor lose employment, the affidavits of support will have to be revised or replaced.

But they have already submitted their DS 260 immigrant visa applications! They can no longer change the information or replace documents. Despite being aware that they can present new and updated documents on the date of the interview, they dread the fact that some questions were incorrectly answered, albeit inadvertently.

Paula is a registered nurse who completed her two-year academic course in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. After graduation, she came home to spend some time with family before starting her graduate visa status, allowing her to work, gain experience and be eligible for permanent residency in Australia either as a skilled independent, skilled regional provisional or state/territory nominated.

But the Covid situation in Victoria took a turn for the worst.

Saturday last week, the United Kingdom's The Guardian reported that Victoria had 1,965 new cases and five deaths as New South Wales recorded 580 cases and 11 deaths — despite the State having reached 90 percent first-dose milestone.

This disturbing news came as "authorities raised concerns about growing case numbers in Mildura on the New South Wales border. Twenty cases were reported in the city on Friday, triggering a lockdown that night."

A sliver of light from the darkest section of the newsroom and the dark web offered hope:

Australia's Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed a news report from ABC News that Australia plans to airlift thousands of doctors and nurses, especially those who had already applied to come to Australia. He said they would be able to sidestep travel restrictions to secure flights and take up critical jobs in Australia's pandemic response.

"This will be a one-off boost to provide additional support," Mr. Hunt told The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. "The Commonwealth is committed to it and the states are working constructively with us on it."

The rest of the news was a downer.

The thousands of nurses and nurses to be airlifted are likely to be made up largely of migrants from Britain, Ireland and other countries where nursing and medical qualifications are recognized by regulators as being equivalent to those in Australia. This means they can start working shifts as soon as they arrive.

Paula had to take the two-year academic course in Melbourne but still has to have her registration completed with the Nursing and Midwifery Board.

Curses!

Paula would like to go, suffering the quarantine protocols before and after her flight. But Australia has a quota on international arrivals. She's not sure if she would be exempted.

The harshest quota for international travelers was announced in July this year. "The reduced cap means the weekly state and territory intake is reduced from the previous cap of 6,370 (which included an extra 300 spots for vulnerable people to return via Brisbane) to 3,070. While the reduction was to be reviewed by August 31, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has indicated it will be in place until at least the end of the year."

Talk about being let down by the Down Under government.

Desi was in Auckland before the pandemic on a working holiday visa. Stranded in the Philippines, Desi could only wallow in despair as she read about the announcement of New Zealand Immigration Minister Kris Faafoie that New Zealand was offering a "one-off residence pathway visa... to the roughly 165,000 migrant workers and their families stranded here through the pandemic."

Yes, legalization, work and residency for those who are in New Zealand regardless of status!

This Social Media Chatter/Intending Immigrant Group feeds on each other's anxieties, fears, from aspiration to desperation.

While not formally belonging to one, they are part of millions of migrants whose lives were suspended, canceled, interrupted by Covid-19.

Scientists and health professionals using huge datasets that track the impact of pandemic control measures on people's mental health, see a pattern emerging: a global surge in depression.

In the United States alone, a December 2020 survey by the US Census Bureau shows 42 percent of people in the country reported symptoms of anxiety or depression that month. This was a huge increase from the 11 percent they recorded in 2019.

Worldwide, similar scenarios play out.

A recently published Nature article notes "an increase of 9 percent Trusted Source in depression rates in June 2020 compared with pre-pandemic times, among UK adults... even to residents in Australia and Canada."

Levels of loneliness, depression, excessive consumption of harmful alcohol and drug use and, God forbid, self-harm or suicidal behavior have moved beyond the level of possibility into the realm of probability.

The cure?

Recognize and accept the facts, not the hype.

Nobody, no one, can predict when the virus will shed its variance, disappear and transform from pandemic to endemic.

Explore other options. If Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom are not currently processing immigrant visa applications, check out Canada's Express Entry or pursue other temporary visas to these countries.

Students, for one, are welcome and processing is faster — preferred. Students can work while studying, have access to employers and pursue employment opportunities on daily or regular interaction at work and school settings.

As in punctuation marks, do not let the period (.) stop you dead on your tracks. Consider the comma (,) or the dash (—).

Better yet, work on another sentence or paragraph and leave your interrupted mode.