This page tracks U.S. visa and entry restrictions related to COVID-19. See NAFSA's Coronavirus Critical Resources Page for related information and resources.

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COVID Vaccine Requirement Effective November 8, 2021

Under Presidential Proclamation 10294 of October 25, 2021, Advancing the Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the COVID-⁠19 Pandemic, effective November 8, 2021, "noncitizens who are nonimmigrants" traveling to the United States by air from any part of the world must establish that they are fully vaccinated, with some limited exceptions.

All air travelers will also continue to have to show results of a negative pre-flight coronavirus test prior to boarding an aircraft in a foreign country destined to the United States, in addition to proof of vaccination. However, on June 10, 2022, news outlets began reporting that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is expected to soon lift its negative COVID-19 test requirement.

For details, see NAFSA's page: COVID Vaccine and Test Requirements for U.S. Entry.


Geographic COVID-19 Proclamations No Longer in Effect

There are currently no geographic COVID-19 entry ban proclamations in effect. 


U.S. Consular and Visa Services

The Department of State Visa Office does not maintain a COVID-19 portal page with information dedicated to U.S. visas, although the DOS travel.state.gov website does list COVID-19-related news alerts on its U.S. Visa News page. This NAFSA page has highlights from that and other sources.

Advocacy on Visa Delays

Senators Ask DOS to Address Visa Backlog for International Students

On August 10, 2021, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) led a group of 23 Senators in calling on Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the State Department to address the backlog of visas for international students, which grew significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read NAFSA's press release.

NAFSA Meets With Department of State Regarding Consular Operations

On July 12, 2021, Esther Brimmer, DPhil, NAFSA's executive director and CEO, met with U.S. State Department Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, Edward Ramotowski, to discuss growing concerns regarding limited visa appointment availability and processing delays affecting international students and scholars planning to arrive on U.S. campuses this fall. NAFSA members can read a meeting summary.

General Resumption of Visa Services

The Department of State suspended routine visa services worldwide in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On July 13, 2020, DOS tweeted the following update from @TravelGov: "US embassies and consulates are beginning the phased resumption of routine visa services. The dates for each embassy or consulate will depend on local conditions. We are unable to provide details for each location. Please monitor the embassy or consulate website for updates."

Read DOS' October 21, 2022 Update on Worldwide Visa Operations, transcribed below, for a DOS progress report.

"Update on Worldwide Visa Operations

Last Updated: October 21, 2022

Worldwide Visa Operations Are Recovering Faster than Expected from the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Department of State is successfully lowering visa interview wait times worldwide, following closures during the pandemic.  We’ve doubled our hiring of U.S. Foreign Service personnel to do this important work, we are recovering faster than projected, and this year we will reach pre-pandemic processing levels.

Backlogs and Wait Times – How We Got Here

As for many service providers, the COVID-19 pandemic forced profound reductions in the Department’s visa processing capacity in two main ways.  First, restrictions on travel to the United States, and local restrictions on public places like our overseas consular waiting rooms, curbed our ability to see visa applicants.  As most applicants are required by U.S. law to appear in person, these restrictions forced a reduction in the number of visa applications the Department could process.

Second, as revenue from the application fees that fund visa processing operations was cut nearly in half, the Department was forced to leave more than 300 overseas consular officer positions unfilled in 2020 and 2021.  This further reduced the number of visa applications we could process.  

Where We Are Now

Since COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, we are back in business worldwide.  Ninety-six percent of our embassies and consulates are again interviewing visa applicants, and we are processing nonimmigrant visa applications at 94 percent of pre-pandemic monthly averages and immigrant visa applications at 130 percent.  In the past 12 months (through September 30, 2022), we processed 8 million non-immigrant visas, well above our best-case projections.  We are well on the way to meeting and exceeding pre-pandemic visa processing capacity.

Improved efficiency through Interview Waivers

During the pandemic, the Department of State coordinated with the Department of Homeland Security to waive in-person interviews for several key visa categories, including for many students and temporary workers integral to supply chains.  In addition, applicants renewing nonimmigrant visas in the same classification within 48 months of their prior visa’s expiration are now eligible to apply without an in-person interview in their country of nationality or residence.  This has already reduced the wait time for an interview appointment at many embassies and consulates.  We estimate 30 percent of worldwide nonimmigrant visa applicants may be eligible for an interview waiver, freeing up in-person interview appointments for those applicants who still require an in-person interview.

Building on Success

Our focused efforts during the pandemic recovery period have yielded substantial results in facilitating travel to the United States.  Here are just some of our successes in the last year:  

  • We reduced the immigrant visa (IV) backlog and reunited families:  As of October 2022, our consular sections worldwide have reduced the overall IV interview scheduling backlog by 25 percent (nearly 135,000 applicants), from its peak in July 2021.  Our embassies in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras eliminated an IV backlog of 22,000 applicants, and our consulate in Ciudad Juarez reduced the IV backlog for Mexican applicants by nearly 44 percent.

  • We set records for student and academic exchange visitor visas.  Consular sections worldwide adjudicated more student visas in July 2022 than in any other month since 2016, with nearly 180,000 F, M, and academic J visas processed. 

  • We exceeded pre-pandemic levels of visa processing for seasonal agricultural and nonagricultural workers who are vital links in the nation’s food supply chain and help ease labor shortages and inflation, with more than 395,000 H-2 visas issued in fiscal year 2022.  

  • We issued thousands of crewmember visas essential for maintaining the global supply chains that support both the U.S. and global economy.  By Summer 2022, the issuance rates of crewmember visas were comparable to pre-pandemic levels.

  • We issued all available E-3 visas in FY 2022, the immigrant visa category most sought by healthcare workers, who are crucial to the health and wellbeing of our communities.   

  • We issued 54,334 Diversity Visas during the DV-2022 program year.  That is the highest number of DVs issued in 25 years, and all available DV numbers were exhausted when that total was combined with the domestic adjustments of status approved by USCIS under the DV program.  

For Those Navigating Long Interview Wait Times

Our goal is to provide a visa interview for every applicant who requires one, worldwide, in a reasonable timeframe.  Although our processing capacity is rebounding faster than projected, we know that visa applicants still face lengthy wait times at some embassies and consulates.  We urge any visa applicant who can travel to another embassy or consulate with shorter wait times to consider doing so.  There is no penalty for applying anywhere appointments are available, even outside your home country.  For the latest information about wait times, see https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas.html."

To find embassy or consulate websites, go to https://www.usembassy.gov/. The embassy links get you to the right embassy website, but you will have to do some clicking to find relevant COVID-19 information, as each embassy website is structured a bit differently.

Expansion of Visa Interview Waivers

In a December 23, 2021 announcement, DOS, in consultation with DHS, has authorized consular officers "through the end of 2022" to waive, in their discretion, the in-person interview requirement for the following individuals:

  • "Individual petition-based H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q applicants who were previously issued any type of visa, and who have never been refused a visa unless such refusal was overcome or waived, and who have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility; or"
  • "first-time individual petition-based H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q who are citizens or nationals of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), provided they have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility and have previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)."

The December 23, 2021 announcement also extends until the end of 2022 the policy originally announced on September 14, 2021 that authorizes consular officers to waive, in their discretion, the in-person interview requirement for the following individuals:

  • "students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists (F, M, and academic J visa applicants)... who were previously issued any type of visa, and who have never been refused a visa unless such refusal was overcome or waived, and who have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility; or"
  • "first-time F, M, and academic J visa applicants who are citizens or nationals of a country that participates in VWP and who have previously traveled to the United States via an ESTA authorization, provided they have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility."

To benefit from the above in-person interview waivers, applicants must be applying for a visa at a U.S. consular office "in their country of nationality or residence." The December 23, 2021 announcement notes that: "Consular resources and local government restrictions vary widely, and each consular section is continuously reviewing its capacity to adjudicate visa applications during this worldwide pandemic and as we address global issues and competing priorities.  We encourage applicants to check the website of the relevant U.S. embassy or consulate to confirm the level of services currently offered and to find guidelines for applying for a visa without an interview."

22 CFR 102(b)(3) allows consular officers to waive the in-person interview requirement for individuals applying to renew a visa in the same visa classification and category if not more than 12 months have passed since the prior visa expired. Until December 31, 2022, the policy described in the December 23, 2021 announcement also allow such waivers for renewals of any visa other than the listed categories if the prior visa has not expired more than 48 months ago. See NAFSA's page for additional details.

Controls at Land Ports of Entry on Canadian and Mexican Borders

Canada-Mexico "Essential Travel" Restrictions

Update: Special Canada-Mexico "essential travel" restrictions were in place at land ports of entry (POE) through January 21, 2022. In an October 12, 2021 DHS announcement, the DHS said that "following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health experts," it will implement a COVID-19 vaccination requirement similar to that in place at air ports of entry.

See NAFSA's page on COVID Vaccine and Test Requirements for information on the new vaccine requirements at land and ferry ports of entry at the Canadian and Mexican borders.

Airports and Flights

Mask Mandate

Executive Order 13988 of January 21, 2021, titled Executive Order on Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel, directed relevant agencies to incorporate, to the extent feasible, CDC recommendations on public modes of transportation and at ports of entry to the United States, including recommendations such as mask-wearing, physical distancing, appropriate ventilation, timely testing, and possibly self-quarantine after U.S. entry. See NAFSA's page on Executive Order 13988 for details.

CBP announced that on February 2, 2021 it began "enforcing the requirement that travelers wear face masks at all air, land and sea ports of entry in the United States in accordance with President Biden's Executive Order on Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Order Regarding the Requirement for Persons to Wear Masks While on Public Conveyances and at Transportation Hubs...With limited exceptions, travelers must wear a face mask while physically present at a U.S. air, land, or sea port of entry. CBP Officers will require travelers to temporarily lower their mask during the inspection process to verify their identity."

However, On April 18, 2022, a Federal District Court judge in Tampa, Florida issued a ruling that the "Mask Mandate exceeds the CDC's statutory authority and violates the procedures required for agency rulemaking under the APA. Accordingly, the Court vacates the Mandate and remands it to the CDC." The case was Health Freedom Defense Fund, Inc. et al. v. Biden. Case 8:21-cv-01693-KKM-AEP.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) followed up with an April 18, 2022 statement saying: "Due to today’s court ruling, effective immediately, TSA will no longer enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs. TSA will also rescind the new Security Directives that were scheduled to take effect tomorrow. CDC continues to recommend that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings at this time."

CDC Rescinds Order Requiring all Passengers on U.S.-Bound Flights to Have COVID-19 Viral Test, Effective June 12, 2022

Proclamation 10294 of October 25, 2021 did not institute new negative COVID-19 test requirements. Rather, in addition to being subject to the proof of vaccination requirements instituted by Proclamation 10294, nonimmigrants who were entering the United States through an air port of entry prior to June 12, 2022 were also subject to CDC rules that required all travelers (regardless of citizenship) to present proof of receiving a negative pre-departure viral test result for COVID-19. Nonimmigrants subject to Proclamation 10294 of October 25, 2021 must, however, still show both proof of being fully vaccinated (or qualify under one of the narrow exceptions) in order to enter the United States.

Update from the CDC website:

"As of 12:01AM ET on June 12, 2022, CDC will no longer require air passengers traveling from a foreign country to the United States to show a negative COVID-19 viral test or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before they board their flight. For more information, see Rescission: Requirement for Negative Pre-Departure COVID-19 Test Result or Documentation of Recovery from COVID-19 for all Airline or Other Aircraft Passengers Arriving into the United States from Any Foreign Country."

See NAFSA's page COVID Vaccine and Test Requirements for U.S. Entry for additional details.