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U.S. Department of State Issues More Revisions to National Interest Exceptions to COVID-19 Travel Bans

On June 1, 2021, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) issued further guidance on eligibility for National Interest Exceptions (NIEs) to the travel bans from the Schengen Area of the EU, the U.K., Ireland, China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, and India. This alert updates DOS’s most recent guidance from April 30, 2021 as discussed in our prior alert.

By way of background, the Trump and Biden administrations have implemented numerous COVID-related travel bans over the past 18 months. This travel ban requires that individuals present in any of the above regions or countries either obtain an exception to the ban or quarantine in a third country for 14 days prior to entering the United States. There are also a number of individuals who are exempt from this ban including U.S. citizens, permanent residents and certain close relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

The March 2021 NIE criteria had previously only applied to individuals in the Schengen Area, the U.K., or Ireland. The April 30 update made the NIE update universal to all countries with a COVID-related travel ban and now, this June 1, 2021 update expands the eligibility criteria for an NIE.

Our immigration resources page has a broad overview on all current U.S. travel bans.

June 1, 2021 Revisions to Department of State Policy for National Interest Exception

The criteria for National Interest Exceptions to this travel ban continue with the same guidance as the April 30 update to allow for waivers for certain travelers who will provide “vital support for critical infrastructure.” The June 1, 2021 guidance expands the criteria to add “travelers providing vital support or executive direction for significant economic activity in the United States.” This latest expansion of the NIE criteria is similar to initial NIE guidance from 2020 that was used extensively to allow travel to the U.S. for high-level business executives. That NIE eligibility was eliminated from the March 2021 guidance making entry to the US, even for the highest level business executives, much more challenging. Because this latest guidance is new, it is not certain whether U.S. embassies and consulates will interpret it as they did last year, but adding this expanded basis for an NIE to this latest guidance is a hopeful sign.

Travelers to the U.S. who remain eligible to apply for an NIE waiver include academics, students, journalists, humanitarian travelers, public health responders, and those travelers who will benefit national security.

Anyone who is impacted by the travel ban should contact their Mintz immigration attorney to discuss the impact of the travel ban and guidance for obtaining an NIE waiver.

The impact of COVID on international travel and the issuance of visas at consular posts abroad is a continually changing and fluid situation. We expect the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security to issue further information about travel to the U.S., and we will continue to provide guidance as new information becomes available.


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William L. Coffman

Special Counsel

William L. Coffman focuses on immigration and nationality law at Mintz. He represents clients on immigration matters before the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Department of Labor, and US and foreign consulates.