Overview of COVID-19 Travel Restrictions and National Interest Exceptions08 Jul 2021
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, foreign nationals traveling to the United States from certain countries have been subject to travel restrictions based on several presidential proclamations. The presidential proclamations currently in effect suspend entry to the United States of certain individuals who were present in specified countries within the 14-day period immediately preceding their intended travel to the United States. Each of the presidential proclamations provides for certain exceptions to the travel restriction and specifies eligibility for an exception for “any alien whose entry would be in the national interest as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their designees.” Individuals approved for the national interest exception (NIE) may enter the U.S. despite restrictions mandated by the presidential proclamations.
Background on Presidential Proclamations Suspending Travel to the U.S.
There are currently four presidential proclamations that apply to foreign nationals traveling to the U.S. from any of the specified 33 countries. The presidential proclamations suspend travel to the U.S. of foreign nationals who have been physically present in China, Iran, the Schengen Area, Ireland, United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa, and India, within the immediately preceding 14 days before the actual or attempted entry to the United States. This travel ban also applies to transiting through a U.S. airport. Additionally, transit through a country covered by any COVID-19 related presidential proclamation, even without exiting the airport, also counts as physical presence within the country sufficient to trigger the ban.
Exceptions to Presidential Proclamations and Automatic Eligibility for NIE
The travel restrictions do not apply to certain categories of individuals, including but not limited to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, parents or legal guardians of a U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, provided the U.S. citizen or LPR is unmarried and under the age of 21, and other categories, such as “certain travelers whose entry would be in the national interest as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their designees.”
Additionally, certain categories of travelers are automatically considered for NIE, without having to file an application with an embassy or consulate. These categories include immigrants of all categories, fiancé/es of U.S. citizens, and F-1 and M-1 students.
Eligibility Criteria for NIE Applications
Certain individuals who are subject to the presidential proclamations and are not eligible for an automatic exception may be eligible to apply for NIE to a U.S. embassy or consulate. If an NIE application is approved, an individual may travel with either a valid visa or ESTA authorization, as appropriate. Each approved NIE is valid for one year from the date of approval, and valid for multiple entries into the United States, as long as the NIE is used for the purpose under which it was granted.
The categories of travelers eligible to apply for NIE include certain exchange visitors, Educational Commission for Foreign Medical graduates (ECFMG), travelers providing executive direction or vital support for critical infrastructure sectors, or directly linked supply chains, travelers providing vital support or executive direction for significant economic activity in the United States, and some other categories.
For a complete list of categories of travelers who are exempt from the presidential proclamations, eligible for automatic NIE, and eligibility for applying for NIE, see the Department of State website.
Process for Requesting NIE
Foreign nationals who are applying for a visa should make an NIE request in conjunction with scheduling a nonimmigrant visa appointment at an embassy or consulate abroad. If no routine visa appointments are available, a visa applicant must apply for an emergency appointment through the online visa scheduling system at traveldocs.com. The exact application process and evidentiary requirements can vary from post to post.
The specific processes set in place at individual consular posts vary considerably depending upon local and external conditions and policies. Therefore, it is important to check with the specific consular office regarding the NIE application process and evidentiary requirements. The Murthy Law Firm is following the developments regarding the NIE process and COVID-19 travel related restrictions closely and will provide regular updates on this important matter as they become available.
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