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Biden Administration Announces Changes to COVID-19 Travel Bans

On September 20, 2021, the White House announced that it will be revamping travel restrictions for international travelers entering the United States. These changes will take effect in early November, 2021. The new policy will replace the country-specific travel bans with a policy that applies to all individuals, regardless of country of origin or physical presence, based on vaccination status and COVID-19 testing.

By way of background, the Trump and Biden administrations have implemented numerous COVID-related travel bans over the past 18 months. These travel bans require that individuals present in any of the impacted 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 a number of individuals who are exempt from these bans including U.S. citizens, permanent residents and certain close relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

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

New White House Travel Policy Will Focus on Individual Requirements for Entry to U.S.

The announcement from the White House represents a significant shift in policy.

The new policy will be uniform and will focus on an individual’s vaccination status. Travelers to the U.S. must prove that they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and also produce a negative COVID-19 test issued within three days of boarding a flight to the United States. According to the White House announcement, unvaccinated travelers may still enter the U.S., but must provide a negative COVID test taken within one day of boarding a flight to the U.S., and must show proof that they have purchased a viral test, to be taken after arrival.

The CDC will also perform contact tracing, and will require airlines to collect contact information for all travelers to the U.S., so that anyone exposed to COVID-19 may be notified.

By contrast, the current system creates significant burdens for many individuals who are present in a country or region that is subject to a COVID travel ban. The suspension of entry for foreign nationals currently applies to physical presence in the following countries: China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau), Iran, Brazil, India, the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, and the Schengen area of Europe comprising Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

The White House announcement did not indicate whether this policy would be implemented for border entry crossings at the U.S.-Canadian and U.S.-Mexican borders. Those restrictions on non-essential travel remain in place.

More details on this new travel requirement will be forthcoming. The White House indicated that it is targeting implementation in early November to allow airlines and travelers sufficient time to prepare for the new entry requirements.

Mintz will continue to provide guidance as new information becomes available.


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John F. Quill

Member / Chair, Immigration Practice

John’s practice encompasses all aspects of immigration and nationality law. John draws on over two decades of experience to help companies and their employees obtain nonimmigrant visas, including B, E, H, J, L, O, and TN visas. He also handles applications for PERM labor certification; extraordinary ability, outstanding researcher, and national interest waiver petitions; adjustment of status procedures; consular processing; and naturalization.