Department of State Extends Validity of National Interest Exceptions to Regional COVID-19 Travel Restrictions

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Over the past year, several Presidential Proclamations have restricted travel to the United States by foreign nationals physically present in China, Iran, the Schengen Region, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, South Africa, and India during the fourteen-day period prior to U.S. entry. The travel restrictions were put into place as a measure to prevent further spread of COVID-19. Those subject to the regional travel restrictions were required to obtain a National Interest Exception (“NIE”) from the Department of State (“DOS”) each time they planned to enter the United States. If approved, the NIE was valid for a single entry during a thirty-day validity period.

On July 6, 2021, the Department of State updated its NIE guidelines. Going forward, NIEs to the regional travel restrictions will be valid for twelve months and multiple entries, provided they are used for the purpose for which they were originally approved. The updated guidelines are a welcome change for foreign national workers who regularly travel to the restricted countries.

In more positive news, the change is retroactive for any NIEs approved within the past 12 months. As a result, foreign nationals who have a valid U.S. work visa and were granted an NIE in the prior 12 months should not need to apply for a new NIE in most circumstances. The validity extension applies to NIEs issued by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate, both in cases approved by email or as part of a visa application.

While admission to the United States remains subject to approval by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) officers, previous NIE records are now visible to CBP at airports abroad and U.S. ports of entry. Foreign nationals can verify whether their NIE remains valid by checking the issuance date of their visa or DOS email approval notice, depending on how the NIE was issued.

U.S. residents and visitors must continue to follow the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) guidance regarding proof of recent COVID-19 testing or evidence of recovery from the virus prior to entry and must comply with all CDC guidelines concerning international travel.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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