*Updated January 3, 2022
COVID-Related, Country-specific Travel Bans
Between January 2020 and January 2021, President Trump issued a series of travel bans to curtail the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. On November 8, 2021, The U.S. replaced country-specific travel bans with vaccination and testing requirements.
On November 29, the Biden administration issued a travel ban to the U.S. for individuals who have been present in a number of countries in southern Africa within the past 14 days. That travel ban was revoked by the Biden administration in a December 28, 2021 proclamation.
Vaccination Required for Nonimmigrant Travelers
Beginning November 8, 2021, all nonimmigrant travelers entering the U.S. must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to board U.S.–bound flights. In limited situations, unvaccinated nonimmigrant travelers may still enter the U.S., but they must meet certain exception criteria and comply with additional restrictions. The new Proclamation’s general rule is that unvaccinated nonimmigrants are not permitted to enter the U.S.
Vaccines accepted for travel to the U.S. are listed on the CDC website and currently include:
The exceptions permitting unvaccinated nonimmigrants to enter the U.S. include the following groups:
- Persons on diplomatic or official foreign government travel
- Children under age 18
- Those with documented medical contraindications for receiving a vaccination;
- Participants in certain COVID-19 vaccine trials
- Those issued a humanitarian or emergency exception (This category must obtain approval from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in advance of travel)
- Those entering on valid visas (other than visitors for business or tourism) from countries with limited vaccine availability
- Members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their spouses and children
- Crew members traveling by sea and certain air crew members
- Others whose entry is in the national interest of the U.S.
The vaccine-excepted categories are only those listed above. The prior exemptions to the geographic travel ban for certain family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residences, for instance, do not apply.
The CDC Technical Instructions provide details of the documentation required to demonstrate eligibility for each exception category. Those who travel by air to the United States under one of these exceptions will also be required to attest that they are excepted from the requirement to present proof of vaccination. Based on the category of the exception, they may further be required to attest that:
- They will be tested with a COVID-19 viral test 3-5 days after arrival in the United States, unless they have documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days;
- They will self-quarantine for a full 7 days, even if the test result to the post-arrival viral test is negative, unless they have documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days; and
- They will self-isolate if the result of the post-arrival test is positive or if they develop COVID-19 symptoms.
Based on the category of the exception, those intending to stay in the United States for longer than 60 days may also be required to attest that:
- They agree to be vaccinated against COVID-19; and
- They have arranged to become fully vaccinated against COVID-19 within 60 days of arriving in the United States, or as soon thereafter as is medically appropriate, unless (for children) they are too young to be vaccinated.
The CDC website includes a helpful Travel Assessment that indicates travel requirements in response to individualized responses, which can be accessed here.
Negative COVID-19 Test Result Required for All Air Travelers
On December 2, 2021, President Biden issued an announcement on "New Actions to Protect Americans Against the Delta and Omicron Variants as We Battle COVID-19 this Winter." Included in these new actions was that the United States has tightened pre-departure testing protocols by requiring all inbound international travelers to the United States to test for COVID-19 within one day of flight departure (instead of the previously required three days), regardless of nationality or vaccination status, and present the negative test result prior to boarding. This tighter testing timeline provides an added degree of public health protection as scientists continue to assess the Omicron variant. All international air passengers destined for the United States continue to be required to provide a negative COVID-19 test result in order to board U.S.-bound flights.
As an alternative to a negative COVID-19 test result, international travelers may present documentation of recovery from COVID-19, including a positive viral test result within 90 days and a letter from a health care provider or public health official clearing them for travel. All passengers must present the negative test result or proof of recovery from COVID-19 before boarding the flight
Furthermore, there has been no announcement regarding changes for unvaccinated travelers, so at this point the prior guidance remains in effect; Unvaccinated travelers must present a negative viral test result for a specimen collected no more than one calendar day before the departure of the passenger's U.S.-bound flight.
Testing requirements have been in place since January 2021 and apply to all air passengers traveling to the United States, two years of age or older, including U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.
Reopening of Canada and Mexico Land Borders
Travel restrictions across the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico, which barred U.S. entry of nonimmigrants for travel considered “non-essential,” are also being eased. Effective November 8, 2021, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will begin allowing fully vaccinated travelers from Mexico or Canada to enter the United States at land and ferry ports of entry (POEs) for non-essential reasons. Travelers will be required to have appropriate paperwork that provides proof of vaccination. Individuals who have not been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 will not be allowed to travel for non-essential purposes from Canada and Mexico into the United States via land and ferry POEs. Entry into the U.S. on a work visa has generally been considered “essential” travel and has not been restricted.
Beginning in January 2022, all inbound foreign national travelers crossing into the U.S. from Canada or Mexico via land or ferry ports of entry — whether for essential or non-essential reasons — must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and provide proof of vaccination. This delayed implementation is intended to provide ample time for essential travelers such as truckers, students, and health care workers to get vaccinated.
There is no information suggesting that there will be any exceptions to the new vaccination requirements. However, note that this change applies only to entry through land or ferry ports. Air travel from Canada and Mexico would follow the vaccination guidelines for worldwide U.S.–bound air travel detailed above.
Visa Processing Remains Limited
The lifting of geographically focused travel restrictions will substantially ease international travel, but challenges will remain. For those who do not have a valid visa for return to the U.S., either because their status was changed in the U.S. or a prior visa has expired, obtaining a new visa may still prove difficult. Some consular posts are simply not scheduling routine visa appointments, and others are allowing appointments to be scheduled — sometimes months in the future — only to cancel them. From a practical standpoint, unless one is likely to qualify for an emergency or expedited visa appointment, there is a good chance that a new visa appointment will be difficult to schedule. Individuals eligible to have the in-person visa appointment waived stand the best chance of securing visas by submitting application documents to the U.S. Embassy through drop box or courier services. Each consular post determines the criteria for a waiver of the interview requirement. At a minimum, typically, the consular post requires that the individual have already been granted a visa in the same classification.
Those who need to obtain a new nonimmigrant visa should verify the status of visa processing operations at the consular post where they will apply.
Entry into the U.S.
In addition to the COVID-19 vaccination and test requirements, when entering the U.S. following international travel, foreign nationals should be prepared to answer questions from a Customs and Border Protection officer regarding the nature of proposed entry and qualifications for a designated waiver or exemption. All foreign nationals should carry documentation evidencing status as well as any documentation supporting the individual’s specific exemption from the vaccination requirement. Visit the Mintz Resources page here for details on required documents for travel.
Following entry into the U.S., it is critical for individuals to check the I-94 admission record to ensure that it properly reflects their status and authorized stay in the U.S. We recommend verifying the accuracy of Form I-94 details within 48 hours of entering the U.S. in order to correct any errors in a timely manner.
Please contact your Mintz attorney with any questions regarding international travel.