U.S. Requires Negative COVID-19 Tests for International Air Passengers

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Seyfarth Synopsis: Effective January 26, 2021, all international passengers (with minor exceptions) traveling by air must provide a negative COVID-19 viral test to enter the U.S. Alternatively, passengers may provide results proving recovery from COVID-19 with a doctor or physician authorizing international travel.

I. Negative COVID-19 Test Requirement

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) order requires that all internationally arriving U.S. air passengers (ages 2 and above), including U.S. citizens and permanent residents, provide a negative COVID-19 test that was administered within three days of travel.

Airlines will be required to verify whether the COVID-19 test meets the order’s requirements. If a passenger does not provide a compliant and negative COVID-19 test, then the airline will not allow the passenger to board the flight.  Travelers must provide a negative COVID-19 test in paper or electronic format.

Passengers must meet the following requirements:

  1. Passenger’s personal identifiers (e.g., name and date of birth) are listed on the test and match the personal identifiers on the passenger’s passport or other travel documents;
  2. If the passenger is arriving on a direct flight to the U.S., the specimen was collected within 3 calendar days of the preceding flight’s departure;
  3. If the passenger is arriving via one or more connecting flights, the specimen was collected within the 3 calendar days preceding the departure of the initial flight but only if the following are met:

    a. The connecting flights were booked as a single passenger record with a destination in the U.S.

    b. Each connection is no longer than 24 hours; and

    c. The airline or aircraft operator has instructed the passenger to comply–and uses reasonable efforts to facilitate compliance, per DOT requirement

  4. The performed test is a viral test (a viral detection test for current infection (i.e., a nucleic acid amplification test or a viral antigen test) approved or authorized by the relevant national authority for the detection of SARS-CoV-2); and
  5. The test result states “NEGATIVE,” “SARS-CoV-2 RNA NOT DETECTED,” or “SARS-CoV-2 ANTIGEN NOT DETECTED,” or “COVID-19 NOT DETECTED.”

The test must also confirm the name and contact information for the laboratory or healthcare personnel who performed the test.

II. Proof of COVID-19 Recovery

Passengers who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection may instead travel to the U.S. with written or electronic documentation of a positive viral test result and a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or public health official stating that the passenger has been cleared for travel (Documentation of Recovery).  This documentation must include the following:

  1. A positive test result and signed letter on official letterhead that contains the name, address, and phone number of a licensed healthcare provider or public health official stating that the passenger has been cleared for travel;
  2. The positive test result occurred within the last three months (90 days) preceding the passenger’s flight to the U.S. (or otherwise specific by the CDC);
  3. The positive test result and signed letter must contain personal identifiers (e.g., name and date of birth) and must match the passenger’s passport or other travel documents;
  4. The performed test was a viral test (a viral detection test for current infection (i.e., a nucleic acid amplification test or a viral antigen test) approved or authorized by the relevant national authority for the detection of SARS-CoV-2); and
  5. The test result states “POSITIVE,” “SARS-CoV-2 RNA DETECTED,” or “SARS-CoV-2 ANTIGEN DETECTED” or “COVID-19 DETECTED.  A test marked invalid is not acceptable.

III. Exemptions

The individuals exempt from this order include the following: (1) airline crew members, provided that they follow industry standard protocols to prevent COVID-19 as set forth in Safety Alerts for Operators (SAFOs) issued by the Federal Aviation Administration; (2) airlines or other aircraft operators transporting passengers with COVID-19 pursuant to CDC authorization; (3) certain federal law enforcement personnel while on official duty; and (4) airlines or other aircraft operators granted specific waivers.

IV. Expiration

The order expires when the earliest of the following occurs: (1) the expiration of COVID-19 as a public health emergency; (2) the CDC Director modifying or rescinding the order; or (3) December 31, 2021.

V. Seyfarth Analysis

International travelers entering the U.S. by air should verify protocols and procedures to obtain a compliant COVID-19 test in the abroad country. Travelers should also confirm that the test meets the CDC requirements.

Notably, the order does not loosen international restrictions on certain individuals who have stayed in countries subject to a travel ban, including China, the U.K., Ireland, Iran, Brazil, and Schengen countries, within the last 14 days. The multiple Presidential Proclamations issued in 2020 restricting travel to the U.S. in the aforementioned countries remain in effect.

The order also does not provide guidance with respect to travelers who have received a COVID-19 vaccine.

Seyfarth Shaw will issue subsequent alerts as the situation continues to develop.  Should you have any questions, please e-mail the author directly or alert your Seyfarth Shaw contact.

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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