COVID-19: State Department amends standards for National Interest Exemptions to regional travel bans

27 Apr 21

UNITED STATES

The U.S. State Department has provided new guidance on the availability of National Interest Exemptions (NIEs) to the U.S.’s regional travel bans, applying certain NIE determinations to all regional travel restrictions currently in effect.

Key Points:  

  • The State Department’s “vital support for critical infrastructure” for business travel now applies to all of the regional travel bans. Previously, the agency’s NIE guidance only applied to travel from Ireland, the United Kingdom and the Schengen Area.
  • Students physically present in Brazil, China, Iran or South Africa in the 14 days before entering the United States may qualify for an NIE only if their academic program begins on or after Aug. 1, 2021. Previously, the State Department had only provided guidance on exemptions for students traveling from Ireland, the United Kingdom or the Schengen Area.
  • Students with valid F-1 and M-1 visas intending to begin or continue an academic program on or after Aug. 1, 2021, do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual NIE to travel. They may enter the United States no more than 30 days before the start of their academic studies.
  • Students seeking to apply for new F-1 or M-1 visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest embassy or consulate; those applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for an NIE to travel.

Background: The regional travel bans bar entry to most foreign nationals who have been physically present in Brazil, China, Iran, Ireland, South Africa, the United Kingdom or the Schengen Area in the 14 days before entry. These bans will remain in place until President Joe Biden lifts or modifies them. The State Department has updated its guidance on NIEs multiple times, most recently on April 8. Anyone traveling to the U.S. by air must provide documentation of a negative viral COVID-19 test taken within three days of travel or evidence of recovery from a recent COVID-19 infection.

BAL Analysis: While the announcement clarifies who will be eligible for NIEs, a number of travel restrictions remain in place. Consulates continue to operate at reduced capacity, and applicants should expect significant delays in obtaining visa appointments as operations gradually resume. Foreign nationals should continue to consult their BAL professional before planning international travel.

BAL’s Government Strategies team is hosting a webinar on Thursday, April 29 on the latest developments in U.S. immigration, including the impact of COVID-related travel restrictions. More information on the webinar is available here.

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