April 15, 2021
U.S. Expands Exceptions to Regional COVID-19 Travel Bans
The U.S. State Department has expanded eligibility for the National Interest Exception (NIE) list for those impacted by regional COVID-19 travel bans. Under the new policy, foreign nationals entering on an immigration or fiancé(e) visa and certain exchange program visitors can now qualify for the NIE.
The current COVID-19 travel ban controls the entry into the U.S. for foreign nationals who have been physically present in one of the listed restricted countries within 14 days prior to seeking entry. U.S. citizens and individuals with permanent residency are exempt from the ban. Additionally, certain foreign nationals may be eligible for an exception or waiver.
Until now, the NIE to the regional COVID-19 travel ban was restricted to individuals traveling for humanitarian or COVID-19-related work requirements, and more recently was extended to include qualifying F-1 and M-1 students, academics, J-1 students and journalists, and certain critical business and work travelers from Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the Schengen zone.
The latest update to the policy concerning the categories of visa applicants eligible for NIE relates to all applicants coming from Brazil, China, Iran, Ireland, the Schengen Area, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. Those eligible for the exception will now also include foreign applicants from any of the above countries obtaining an immigration or fiancé(e) visa, certain exchange visitors, such as au pairs, J-1 interns and trainees on government agency-sponsored programs, and J-1 specialized teachers, pilots and air crew travelling for training, aircraft collection, delivery, or maintenance.
Once an NIE has been granted, it will be issued for single entry and the applicant must travel to the U.S. within 30 days of validity. Travelers must still also comply with the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requirements for a negative COVID test or evidence of a recent recovery prior to any international air travel into the United States.
While an increased number of individuals will be eligible to obtain the NIE, ongoing backlogs of visa applications at U.S. consular posts and delays in obtaining visa appointments are likely to continue, subsequently delaying both processing and entry dates. Foreign national applicants should be prepared for possible appointment cancellations due to COVID-related issues and be flexible with their travel plans.
For further information on COVID-19 related travel restrictions into the U.S., please contact the Sterling Lexicon immigration team.
As Head of Immigration with Sterling Lexicon, Leanne leads a team of specialists who are responsible for ensuring the entire immigration process is smooth and stress-free for clients, assignees and their accompanying family members. She brings over ten years of experience in strategic immigration management, planning and consultation to her role, and has cultivated invaluable knowledge and experience in processing countless global migration applications. As a trusted partner, she consults with clients on everything from policy considerations and cost or efficiency improvements, to the impact of opening offices in new locations. Leanne is a frequent presenter and author on global immigration topics and trends.