FAQs on White House’s COVID-19 Vaccination Requirements for U.S. Travelers

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The White House issued a Proclamation dated October 25, 2021 (Proclamation) implementing strict protocols that require noncitizen, nonimmigrant individuals traveling to the United States by air to be fully vaccinated with limited exceptions, beginning November 8, 2021. As delegated by the President in the Proclamation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order (Order) detailing the vaccination requirements and protocols for entry into the United States consistent with the Proclamation. The CDC also released technical instruction to assist travelers on the new requirements.

The Proclamation also rescinds the policies, implemented under INA § 212(f), which restricted travel to the United States from China, India, the Schengen Area (26 European countries), U.K., Ireland, Brazil, Iran, and South Africa.

As a follow-up to our September 21, 2021 guidance, we provide the following guidance on frequently asked questions that your business and employees may have regarding the Proclamation and Order.

What are the requirements under the new policy?

The CDC outlines a number of requirements relating to vaccinations, pre- and post-entry testing, mask wearing during travel, and self-quarantine.

Below we provide a chart of which classes of travelers must comply with the requirements outlined by the CDC.

Individuals should refer to the definitions outlined in the CDC Order which provide helpful guidance on these requirements.

In short, U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and lawful permanent residents traveling by plane to the United States, above the age of 2, must continue to comply with CDC pre-departure testing, face covering, and contact tracing requirements.

In addition to those requirements, non-U.S. citizen, non-U.S. immigrant travelers are required to be fully vaccinated to travel by plane to the United States subject to certain exceptions outlined below.

When do the new requirements take effect?

The Proclamation is effective for flights that depart on November 8, 2021 at 12:01 a.m. EST or later.

Which vaccines will be accepted?

As of October 26, 2021, CDC currently accepts the following vaccines (CDC Accepted Vaccines):

  1. Janssen/J&J
  2. Pfizer-BioNTech
  3. Moderna
  4. AstraZeneca
  5. Covishield
  6. BIBP/Sinopharm
  7. Sinovac

CDC has indicated that it will consider a traveler fully vaccinated if they have received a mix and match combination of the above vaccines at least 17 days apart.

Travelers should refer to the CDC website of acceptable vaccines for the most current list of accepted vaccines when planning their travel to the United States.

When are you considered fully vaccinated?

CDC considers a traveler fully vaccinated 14 days after a single dose COVID-19 vaccine (e.g., J&J). Alternatively, CDC considers a traveler fully vaccinated 14 days after receiving the second dose, of a two-dose vaccine (e.g., Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech).

What does CDC consider as acceptable proof of vaccination?

CDC has provided the following chart, which lays out helpful information regarding how travelers may prove to airlines that they are vaccinated and thus eligible to enter the United States:

According to the CDC’s guidelines, all forms of proof of vaccination must include:

  • “Personal identifiers (at a minimum, full name and date of birth) that match the personal identifiers on the passenger’s passport or other travel documents”;
  • “Name of official source issuing the record (e.g., public health agency, government agency, or other authorized vaccine provider)”; and
  • “Vaccine manufacturer and date(s) of vaccination.”

Notably, the CDC has not released public information relating to how airlines will determine if “an official source” issued a vaccine record to a traveler.

Are there any exceptions to the vaccination requirement?

The White House and the CDC have listed several exceptions to the vaccination requirement, including:

  1. Persons on diplomatic or official foreign government travel
  2. Children under 18 years of age
  3. Participants in certain COVID-19 vaccine trials
  4. Persons with medical contraindications to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine
  5. Persons issued a humanitarian or emergency exception
  6. Persons with valid nonimmigrant visas (excluding B-1 [business] or B-2 [tourism] visas) who are citizens of a country with limited COVID-19 vaccine availability
  7. Members of the U.S. Armed Forces or their spouses or children (under 18 years of age)
  8. Sea crew members traveling pursuant to a C-1 and D nonimmigrant visa
  9. Persons whose entry would be in the U.S. national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, Secretary of Transportation, or Secretary of Homeland Security (or their designees)

If a traveler falls under one of the above exceptions, what other requirements must the traveler follow?

Travelers who fall under an exception are required to provide an “Excepted Covered Individual Attestation” when seeking entry into the United States. NOTE: The CDC has not yet provided the specific attestation form. The CDC has indicated that these attestations are subject to 18 U.S.C. § 1001, which may subject an individual to criminal penalties for knowingly providing false statements.

Excepted travelers will be required to attest that they:

  1. Have arranged for post-arrival COVID-19 testing within 3-5 days of arrival;
  2. Have arranged to self-quarantine (if post arrival test is negative) or self-isolate (if post-arrival test is positive) after arriving; and
  3. Agree and have arranged to become vaccinated within 60 days of arrival and provide proof of having arranged for such vaccination, subject to certain exceptions as outlined in the CDC Order.

Will children under the age of 18 be required to become vaccinated within 60 days?

The CDC has indicated that the “attestation for post-arrival vaccination will not be required for children under 18 at this time.” In light of the changing nature of the pandemic and these requirements, we recommend that all travelers monitor the CDC guidelines to determine if these attestation requirements change over time.

Which participants in vaccine trial are eligible for an exception?

Travelers who have participated in a Phase 3 COVID-19 trial, received an active COVID-19 vaccine, and can present acceptable proof of their participation may be excepted from the full vaccination requirement. A list of qualifying COVID-19 trials is available here.

The CDC Order also indicates that individuals qualified under this exemption are not required to attest to agreeing and arranging to become vaccinated within 60 days of arrival to the United States.

What is a medical contraindication to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine?

CDC considers the below to be a contraindication to the COVID-19 vaccination:

  • “Severe allergic reaction (e.g., anaphylaxis) after a previous dose or to a component of the COVID-19 vaccine,” or
  • “Immediate allergic reaction of any severity to a previous dose or known (diagnosed) allergy to a component of the COVID-19 vaccine” (COVID Contraindications)

Travelers with a medical contraindication may be excepted from the requirement. They must however provide a signed letter from a licensed physician. That letter must meet the requirements noted by CDC (Contraindication Letter Requirements). Airlines, in their discretion, may require “medical consultation by a third party for persons requesting an exception based on a medical contraindication to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.”

What if I have received a vaccine that is not on the list of accepted vaccines?

Currently, the Proclamation and the CDC guidelines do not provide an exception to the vaccination requirement for individuals who have received a COVID-19 vaccine not on the list of accepted vaccines. Such individuals must comply with the requirements unless subject to a listed exception.

How can a traveler apply for a National Interest Exception from the requirements?

The CDC Order notes that a noncitizen or group of noncitizens whose entry in to the United States is in the “national interest as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Secretary of Homeland Security” may be excepted from the requirements. However, these agencies have not yet provided guidance regarding application for and receipt of such a national interest exception. We are monitoring whether essential travel and business criticality arguments for key infrastructure industry travelers will be considered by the government.

Are there any religious or moral exceptions to the vaccination requirement?

The CDC Order explicitly states: “Objections to vaccinations based on religious or moral convictions do not qualify under this or any other exception listed in the Proclamation or this Order.” We are monitoring closely to see whether any exemptions from the new vaccination requirements will later be accommodated on religious and moral grounds.

How do the CDC guidelines affect travelers from countries with limited vaccine availability?

Travelers from countries with populations that have less than 10% vaccination rates are exempt from the new vaccination requirements. The CDC has identified those counties in this Table, which includes travelers from several countries in the Middle East and Africa. However, travelers will be required to comply with all other testing, contact tracing, and post-entry vaccination requirements, as well as the attestation requirements outlined by the CDC.

Importantly, tourist and business visitors (i.e., foreign nationals with B-1/B-2 visas) traveling from these countries will not be permitted to travel without complying with the vaccination requirement.

Travelers should monitor the Table as the CDC has indicated it will update the table every 90 days.

Are applicants for immigrant visas covered by the CDC’s guidelines?

The vaccination policy does not apply to those travelers currently out of the United States applying for U.S. permanent residency via an immigrant visa process. However, CDC requires that those applicants be vaccinated prior to their medical examination by a panel physician and provide proof of vaccination as part of the medical examination process.

Does the Proclamation affect land travel into the United States?

The Proclamation only relates to air travel. However, the White House has indicated that it will be implementing similar requirements for land travel to the United States. We will provide updates when such requirements are implemented.

How do the new requirements impact nonimmigrant (e.g., H-1B or L-1) visa holders currently in the United States who are planning to travel outside of the U.S.?

Nonimmigrant visa holders intending to travel outside of the United States must comply with all the applicable vaccination, testing, masking, and contact tracing requirements described in order to return to the United States by air in valid nonimmigrant visa status.

Will the new policy affect timing of Visa issuance?

The Proclamation is clear that the new vaccination requirement “does not affect visa issuance.” Thus, individuals will not be required to be fully vaccinated to apply for and receive a travel visa from the consulate. With that said, we strongly recommend that visa applicants begin the process of obtaining a COVID-19 vaccination when pursuing travel authorizations to the United States.

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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