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U.S. travel and visa restrictions: An update

On Behalf of | Dec 21, 2020 | Business-Based Immigration

Country-Specific COVID-19 Travel Bans (Presidential Proclamations 9993 and 9996)

In response to the pandemic, the United States currently has temporary travel restrictions that bar certain individuals who have been physically present in specific countries from entering the United States. This includes those who have been to China, Brazil, Iran, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and 26 Schengen Area countries in the 14 days immediately preceding entry to the United States. The ban even applies to individuals who are transiting through a U.S. airport and those have transited through an airport in one of the previously listed countries. There are some limited exceptions to the travel restrictions, including U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents of the U.S., and spouses of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

For travelers who are applying for or already have a valid visa and are unable to spend at least 14 days in a country not subject to a COVID-19 travel restriction, they may qualify for a National Interest Exception (“NIE”) to the travel restrictions from the Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland.

The presidential proclamation travel restrictions from China, Brazil, and Iran also include a general national interest exception. However, it is unclear whether the exception is meaningful because the U.S. Department of State has not issued any specific guidance on the process for requesting a national interest exception for those who have been physical present in China, Brazil, or Iran.

A request for an NIE must generally be made directly to the U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad. Travelers should be prepared for the possibility of lengthy processing times and, if applicable, lengthy waits for an in-person interview.

The country-specific COVID-19 travel bans do not have an expiration date. They are in effect until affirmatively lifted by the President.

Suspended Entry for Certain Immigrants (Presidential Proclamation 10014)

President Trump issued an Executive Order on April 22, 2020 banning the entry of certain immigrants to the U.S. The order is scheduled to expire on December 31, 2020 unless it is further extended by the President. The ban does not apply to individuals who are applying to adjust status inside the U.S. or to those who are already lawful permanent residents of the U.S. There are other exceptions to the ban, including individuals U.S. lawful permanent residents and spouses of U.S. citizens.

For several months, the Department of State also suspended the processing of K-1 Fiancée visa applications on the basis that they were temporarily banned by the President’s Executive Order. On November 19, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the Department of State to continue K-1 fiancée visa processing and adjudications.

Even if individuals are not subject to the immigrant visa ban, they are still subject to extensive delays with scheduling immigrant visa appointments abroad at the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate. With the exception of emergency appointments, many consulates have still temporarily suspended the routine processing and adjudication of nonimmigrant and immigrant visa.

Suspended Entry for Certain Nonimmigrants (Presidential Proclamation 10052)

Presidential Proclamation 10052 temporarily banned the entry of certain nonimmigrants, including H-1B, H-2B, J-1, L-1, and derivatives dependents of the same visa categories. The ban does not apply to individuals who were already present in the U.S. on June 24, 2020; who already possessed a valid visa in one of the restricted classifications on June 24, 2020; or who are applying for entry to the U.S. on a valid travel document. There are exceptions to the nonimmigrant visa travel ban, including those whose work is essential to the U.S. food supply chain and individuals whose entry is in the U.S. national interest. Certain individuals may also be eligible for a National Interest Exception (“NIE”) to the proclamation. The NIE is usually valid for only 30 days and is granted for a single entry to the U.S. The Department of State has published guidance about requesting a National Interest Exception to the nonimmigrant visa ban here.

Unless revised or affirmatively extended, Presidential Proclamation 10052 banning certain nonimmigrants, is scheduled to expire on December 31, 2020.



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