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.

Page Contents


Geographic COVID-19 Proclamations Affecting Entry from Certain Countries

Four COVID-19-related presidential proclamations continue to limit entry to the United States by individuals who were physically present in a covered country during the 14-day period prior to their planned entry or attempted entry to the United States.

Developing News

On September 20, 2021, media outlets reported that the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, Jeffrey Zients, announced Biden administration plans to lift geographic travel ban restrictions in November for individuals who establish that they are fully vaccinated if they also show results of a negative coronavirus test performed on a specimen taken during the three days preceding their flight's departure from a  foreign country traveling to the United States. See, for example:

NAFSA will update this page with links to official White House and agency announcements when they become available.

The Covered Countries

The 33 countries covered by a geographic COVID-19 entry ban proclamation include:

  • Brazil
  • China
  • India
  • Iran
  • Ireland
  • Schengen Area (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland)
  • South Africa
  • United Kingdom

The COVID-19 Geographic Proclamations Currently in Effect

  1. Proclamation 9984 of January 31, 2020 (Trump), published at 85 FR 6709 (February 5, 2020), effective February 2, 2020, continued in effect by Proclamation 10143 of January 25, 2021 (Biden), published at 86 FR 7467 (January 28, 2021). Covers:
    • China. Restricts the "entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of all aliens who were physically present within the People's Republic of China, excluding the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau, during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States," unless exempted or otherwise excepted.
  2. Proclamation 9992 of February 29, 2020 (Trump), published at 85 FR 12855 (March 4, 2020), effective March 1, 2020, continued in effect by Proclamation 10143 of January 25, 2021 (Biden), published at 86 FR 7467 (January 28, 2021). Covers:
    • Iran. Restricts the "entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of all aliens who were physically present within the Islamic Republic of Iran, during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States," unless exempted or otherwise excepted.
  3. Proclamation 10143 of January 25, 2021 (President Biden), published at 86 FR 7467 (January 28, 2021). Covers:
    • South Africa. Effective January 30, 2021.
    • The European Schengen Area. Originally went into effect March 12, 2020 by Proclamation 9993 of March 11, 2020 (Trump), published at 85 FR 15045. (March 16, 2020). Terminated effective January 26, 2021 by Proclamation 10138 of January 18 2021 (Trump), but reestablished without interruption through Proclamation 10143 of January 25, 2021 (Biden), published at 86 FR 7467 (January 28, 2021).
    • The United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Originally went into effect March 12, 2020 by Trump Proclamation 9984 of January 31, 2020, published at 85 FR 6709 (February 5, 2020). Terminated effective January 26, 2021 by Proclamation 10138 of January 18 2021 (Trump), but reestablished without interruption through Proclamation 10143 of January 25, 2021 (Biden), published at 86 FR 7467 (January 28, 2021).
    • Brazil. Originally went into effect on May 26, 2020 by Proclamation 10041 of May 24, 2020 (Trump), published at 85 FR 31933 (May 28, 2020). Terminated effective January 26, 2021 by Proclamation 10138 of January 18 2021 (Trump), but reestablished without interruption through Proclamation 10143 of January 25, 2021 (Biden), published at 86 FR 7467 (January 28, 2021).
    • The proclamation restricts "entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of noncitizens who were physically present within the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom (excluding overseas territories outside of Europe), the Republic of Ireland, and the Federative Republic of Brazil during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States," unless exempted or otherwise excepted.
  4. Proclamation of 10199 of April 30, 2021 (President Biden), published at 86 FR 24301 (May 6, 2021), effective May 4, 2021. Covers:
    • India. "This proclamation is effective at 12:01 a.m. eastern daylight time on May 4, 2021. This proclamation does not apply to persons aboard a flight scheduled to arrive in the United States that departed prior to 12:01 a.m. eastern daylight time on May 4, 2021."
    • Restricts "the entry into the United States, as nonimmigrants, of noncitizens of the United States ("noncitizens") who were physically present within the Republic of India during the 14‑day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States."

Note that whereas Proclamations 9984, 9982, and 10143 covering travel from China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland restrict entry by both "immigrants or nonimmigrants," Proclamation 10199 of April 30, 2021 covering travel from India only restricts entry by "nonimmigrants."

Implementation and enforcement of the geographic COVID-19 entry restrictions

Implementation and enforcement of the proclamations is shared by relevant agencies. Section 3 of the April 30, 2021 India proclamation provides an example for the agencies' roles:

Sec. 3.  Implementation and Enforcement.

     (a)  The Secretary of State shall implement this proclamation as it applies to visas pursuant to such procedures as the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, may establish.  The Secretary of Homeland Security shall implement this proclamation as it applies to the entry of noncitizens pursuant to such procedures as the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, may establish.

     (b)  The Secretary of State, the Secretary of Transportation, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall endeavor to ensure that any noncitizen subject to this proclamation does not board an aircraft traveling to the United States, to the extent permitted by law.

     (c)  The Secretary of Homeland Security may establish standards and procedures to ensure the application of this proclamation at and between all United States ports of entry.

     (d)  Where a noncitizen circumvents the application of this proclamation through fraud, willful misrepresentation of a material fact, or illegal entry, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall consider prioritizing such noncitizen for removal.

Exceptions to the geographic COVID-19 entry restrictions

The geographic COVID-19 travel restriction proclamations do not apply to U.S. citizens or nationals, or to any alien (noncitizen) who is:

  1. a citizen of the United States
  2. a noncitizen national of the United States
  3. a lawful permanent resident of the United States
  4. a noncitizen spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
  5. a noncitizen parent or legal guardian of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, provided that the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident is unmarried and under the age of 21;
  6. a noncitizen sibling of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, provided that both are unmarried and under the age of 21;
  7. a noncitizen child, foster child, or ward of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, or who is a prospective adoptee seeking to enter the United States pursuant to the IR-4 or IH-4 visa classifications;
  8. a noncitizen traveling at the invitation of the United States Government for a purpose related to containment or mitigation of the virus;
  9. C-1 (transit) or D-1 (air or sea crewmember) nonimmigrants, or "or any noncitizen otherwise traveling to the United States as air or sea crew"
  10. a noncitizen seeking entry into or transiting the United States pursuant to an A-1, A-2, C-2, C-3 (as a foreign government official or immediate family member of an official), G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1 through NATO-4, or NATO-6 visa;
  11. a noncitizen whose travel falls within the scope of section 11 of the United Nations Headquarters Agreement
  12. a noncitzen who is a member of the U.S. Armed Forces and spouses and children of members of the U.S. Armed Forces
  13. a noncitizen whose entry would further important United States law enforcement objectives, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees based on a recommendation of the Attorney General or his designee; or
  14. a noncitizen whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their designees.*

Note that whereas Proclamations 9984, 9982, and 10143 (covering travel from China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland) restrict entry by both "immigrants or nonimmigrants," the April 30, 2021 proclamation covering travel from India restricts only entry by "nonimmigrants."

National Interest Exceptions for Certain Travelers

Updated 08/15/2021

It may be possible for an individual otherwise covered by one of the geographic COVID-19 travel restriction proclamations to receive a national interest exception (NIE) to allow travel to the United States.

National Interest Exceptions for F-1 and M-1 students and other nonimmigrants

There are currently four NIE policy statements on travel.state.gov, dated:

Consider the following:

Blanket NIE for F-1 and M-1 students.

F-1 and M-1 students subject to any of the four geographic proclamations benefit from a blanket NIE. The September 15, 2021 statement says that they "are automatically considered for National Interest Exception (NIE) at the Port of Entry and do not require advance approval of a NIE from an embassy or consulate." However:

  • August 1, 2021/30-day condition for F-1 and M-1 students who were present in China, Brazil, Iran, South Africa, or India. F-1 and M-1 students who had been present in China, Brazil, Iran, South Africa, or India are subject to an August 1/30-day condition in order to activate the blanket NIE. "New or returning students present in China, Brazil, Iran, South Africa, or India may arrive  no earlier than 30 days before the start of an academic program beginning August 1, 2021 or after, including optional practical training (OPT)."
    • The ambiguous wording creates confusion regarding returning continuing students who were present in those countries, since they will all likely have academic programs or OPT that "began" before August 1, 2021. That still leaves it up to the common sense of consular officers, airlines, and CBP to determine that "this can't possibly mean that new students can come in but returning students or students on OPT can't."
  • F-1 and M-1 students who were present only in the Schengen Area, United Kingdom, or Ireland are not subject to the August 1 condition. Although not subject to an August 1 condition, the May 12, 2021 statement referenced in the June 24, 2021 statement can be read to imply that these students could be subject to a "no earlier than 30 days before the start of their academic studies" condition. Still, that shouldn't be too burdensome to meet even for returning continuing students.

Individual NIE for J-1 students, J-1 academics in the professor, research scholar, short-term scholar, or specialist categories, but ECFMG-sponsored J-1 physicans exempt from proclamations.

The September 15, 2021 statement places "exchange students and academics (certain J visas to include those in the professor, research scholar, short-term scholar, or specialist categories)," among the categories of travelers who "may apply for a National Interest Exception (NIE) if subject to one or more of the four proclamations." These J exchange visitors do not benefit from a blanket NIE, so they must obtain an individual NIE from a U.S. consulate before traveling to the United States regardless of whether they have a valid J-1 visa. However, the September 15, 2021 update specifically added ECFMG J-1 participants to the list of individuals who are exempt from the proclamations.

  • August 1, 2021/30-day condition for J-1 students and academics who were present in China, Brazil, Iran, South Africa, or India. In the September 15, 2021 statement, after establishing the individual NIE requirement for "exchange students and academics (certain J visas to include those in the professor, research scholar, short-term scholar, or specialist categories)," DOS provides that "new or returning students and academics present in China, Brazil, Iran, South Africa, or India may arrive no earlier than 30 days before the start of an academic program beginning August 1, 2021 or after." J-1 students and academics who were present only in the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, or Ireland are not subject to the August 1 condition.
  • ECFMG J-1 participants to the list of individuals who are exempt from the proclamations.
  • DOS's July 6, 2021 NIE statement extended individual (non-blanket) NIEs to 12 months of validity for multiple entry.

NIEs for Dependents.

The May 12, 2021 and September 15, 2021 statements both list dependents with the following language: "derivative family members accompanying or following to join a noncitizen who has been granted or would be reasonably expected to receive a National Interest Exception (NIE), or is not otherwise subject to the Proclamations and who is engaging in certain types of long-term employment, studies, or research lasting four weeks or more."

The May 12, 2021 and June 1, 2021 statements listed dependents under general paragraphs that provided: "The Secretary of State has determined that the entry of the following travelers is in the national interest for purposes of exceptions to the geographic COVID Presidential Proclamations" [May 12] and "The Secretary of State has determined that the entry of the following travelers is in the national interest for purposes of exceptions to all four proclamations." [June 1]. Placed this way, it could be argued that dependents could benefit from the same type of NIE (blanket or individual) that the principal could benefit from. Many read this to mean that F-2 and M-2 dependents also benefited from a blanket NIE.

The June 24, 2021 revision to the June 1, 2021 statement, however, placed dependents under a new paragraph of categories of travelers who "may apply for a National Interest Exception (NIE) if subject to one or more of the four proclamations." Placing dependents this way could be understood to mean that although F-1 and M-2 principals benefit from a blanket NIE, their F-2 and M-2 dependents might have to apply for individual NIEs to accompany or follow to join the principal student. Note, however, that the June 24, 2021 (and the September 15, 2021 revision to that page) blanket NIE language refers to "Students (F and M visas) as described here," which refers back to the May 12, 2021 statement, and speaks of "F and M visas," not F-1 and M-1 visas. DOS may have to clarify whether F-2 and M-2 dependents also benefit from the blanket NIE of their F-1 and M-1 principals.

The NIE Statements

For convenience, the various NIE statements are reproduced below.

September 15, 2021 NIE statement

"COVID-19 Travel Restrictions and Exceptions

Last updated: September 15, 2021

To protect the public health, there are four presidential proclamations that suspend entry into the United States of all noncitizens who were physically present in any of 33 countries during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States.  They are Presidential Proclamation 9984 (China) ; Presidential Proclamation 9992 (Iran) Presidential Proclamation 10143 (Schengen Area, United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, and South Africa) ; and Presidential Proclamation 10199 (India) .

The Proclamations do not apply to:

  • U.S. citizens;
  • lawful permanent residents;
  • spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents;
  • parents or legal guardians of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident unmarried minor child;
  • siblings of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident child, provided both are unmarried and under the age of 21;
  • air and sea crewmembers;
  • U.S. noncitizen nationals (not applicable to Proclamations 9984 (China) and 9992(Iran));
  • diplomats;
  • any noncitizen who is a member of the U.S. Armed Forces and any noncitizen who is a spouse or child of a member of the U.S. Armed Forces;
  • certain U.S. Government invitees for the purpose of the containment or mitigation of COVID-19 (including Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) J visa program participants); and; [NAFSA note: the September 15, 2021 update to this page specifically added ECFMG J-1 participants to the list of individuals who are exempt from the proclamations]
  • certain travelers whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their designees.

The Secretary of State has determined that the entry of the following travelers is in the national interest for purposes of exceptions to all four proclamations. The Secretary may revise these national interest determinations as circumstances warrant.

These three categories of travelers are automatically considered for National Interest Exception (NIE) at the Port of Entry and do not require advance approval of a NIE from an embassy or consulate.

  • immigrants of all categories (not applicable to Proclamation 10199, which only covers nonimmigrant travel);
  • fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens and their dependents (K visas);
  • Students (F and M visas) as described here; [NAFSA note: this link leads to the May 12, 2021 notice]
  • New or returning students present in China, Brazil, Iran, South Africa, or India may arrive  no earlier than 30 days before the start of an academic program beginning August 1, 2021 or after, including optional practical training (OPT);
The following categories of travelers may apply for a National Interest Exception (NIE) if subject to one or more of the four proclamations.

Travelers who believe their travel is within one of the below categories should consult the website of the nearest embassy or consulate for instructions on applying for an NIE.

  • certain exchange visitors as detailed within this article;
  • exchange students and academics (certain J visas to include those in the professor, research scholar, short-term scholar, or specialist categories);
  • new or returning students and academics present in China, Brazil, Iran, South Africa, or India may arrive no earlier than 30 days before the start of an academic program beginning August 1, 2021 or after;
  • journalists (I visas);
  • travelers providing executive direction or vital support for critical infrastructure sectors, or directly linked supply chains, as outlined at https://www.cisa.gov/critical-infrastructure-sectors ;
  • travelers providing vital support or executive direction for significant economic activity in the United States
  • pilots and aircrew traveling for training or aircraft pickup, delivery, or maintenance;
  • those whose purpose of travel falls within one of these categories:
    • lifesaving medical treatment for the principal applicant and accompanying close family members
    • public health for those travelling to alleviate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, or to continue ongoing research in an area with substantial public health benefit (e.g., cancer or communicable disease research)
    • humanitarian travel, to include those providing care for a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident, or other nonimmigrant-in-lawful-status close family member
    • medical escorts, legal guardians, or other escorts required by an airline or legally required by a foreign medical or law enforcement entity accompanying a U.S. citizen being repatriated to the United States;
    • national security; and
    • derivative family members accompanying or following to join a noncitizen who has been granted or would be reasonably expected to receive a National Interest Exception (NIE), or is not otherwise subject to the Proclamations and who is engaging in certain types of long-term employment, studies, or research lasting four weeks or more.
  • Temporary workers present in South Africa whose travel is essential to food supply chain (H-2A and certain H-2B visas) are excepted travelers as described in this article.

Travelers present in these 33 countries who believe they have an urgent need for travel to the United States that does not fall under any of the categories described above should consult the website of the nearest embassy or consulate for instructions on applying for an individual NIE.

If the embassy or consulate  supports the granting of an individual NIE in a particular case, they will forward their recommendation to the Department of State for consideration."

August 12, 2021 NIE statement

[NAFSA note: The August 12, 2021 statement is a revision of the July 6, 2021 statement that extended individual (non-blanket) NIEs to 12 months of validity for multiple entry. Compare the August 12, 2021 revision to prior versions available on the WayBack Machine:

  • July 6, 20201 original version. Did not mention August 1.
  • July 7, 2021 unlabled revision. Changed the original July 6 version without changin the "Last Updated July 6, 2021" date, to add the phrase "NIE eligibility for students who have been present in Brazil, China, India, Iran or South Africa applies to programs that begin on or after August 1, 2021. Additional information is available here, and to consolidate the last two paragraphs of the original July 6 version into a single paragraph.
  • The August 12, 2021 revision retains the body of the July 7 unlabeled revision and adds a set of 6 FAQs.

"Extension of validity for National Interest Exceptions (NIEs) for Travelers from China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and India

Last Updated: August 12, 2021

On June 29, 2021, the Department of State extended the validity of National Interest Exceptions (NIE) for travelers subject to restrictions under Presidential Proclamations (PPs) 9984, 9992, 10143, 10199, and similar subsequent PPs related to the spread of COVID-19. Unless otherwise indicated, existing NIEs will be valid for 12 months from the date of approval and for multiple entries, as long as they are used for the purpose under which they were granted.

This extension applies to travelers subject to these proclamations due to their presence in China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the Schengen area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and India who currently have approved NIEs or who were granted NIEs in conjunction with a visa application.

Among the qualifications for NIEs are those traveling to provide vital support or executive direction to critical infrastructure; those traveling to provide vital support or executive direction for significant economic activity in the United States; journalists; travel due to extraordinary humanitarian circumstances; or travel in support of national security or public health. Students holding F or M visas and travelers with immigrant or fiancé visas have been granted NIEs and do not need to obtain NIEs in advance from a consular section. NIE eligibility for students who have been present in Brazil, China, India, Iran or South Africa applies to programs that begin on or after August 1, 2021. Additional information is available here.

Travelers should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate before traveling if they have not previously been approved for a NIE and have a valid visa in the appropriate class or have a valid ESTA approval for travel under the Visa Waiver Program and seek to travel for purposes consistent with ESTA approval. If an NIE is approved, they may travel on either a valid visa or ESTA approval, as appropriate. Each approved NIE is valid for 12 months from the date of approval and may be used to travel to the United States multiple times for the purpose indicated in the approved NIE.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does this announcement extend the validity of NIEs issued prior to the effective date of June 29, 2021?

Yes, this extension of NIE validity to 12 months applies to NIEs issued before June 29, 2021.

I received an NIE prior to June 29, 2021, and my visa has an annotation limiting my entry, for example to single entry within 30 days.  Is my NIE now valid for 12 months and multiple entry despite the annotation?

Yes, NIEs are now valid for 12 months and multiple entry, regardless of the annotation on previously issued visas for NIEs.

Does this apply to all NIEs issued by the Department of State, including those in which a new visa was not issued at the time the NIE was approved?

Yes, this applies to all NIEs issued by the Department of State, including for those travelling without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program.

If I receive an NIE to travel from one region under a COVID-19-related presidential proclamation, can I use the same NIE to travel within 12 months from a separate region that is also under a COVID-19-related presidential proclamation restricting travel?  

Yes, all valid NIEs approved by the Department of State apply to all COVID-19-based Presidential Proclamations.

Will Customs and Border Protection inspectors at the ports of entry recognize State Department-issued NIEs as valid for 12 months and multiple entries if traveling for the same purpose?  

Customs and Border Protection will recognize the extended validity of all NIEs approved by the Department of State.

Does DOS' NIE extension announcement apply to or affect NIE waivers issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) / Customs and Border Protection (CBP)?

No. There is no change to the validity period of DHS/CBP issued NIEs."

May 27, 2021 NIE statement (added to the travel.state.gov website on June 1, 2021)

"National Interest Exceptions for Certain Travelers from China, Iran, India, Brazil, South Africa, Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland

Last Updated: May 27, 2021

On May 27, 2021, the Secretary of State made a national interest determination regarding categories of travelers eligible for exceptions under Presidential Proclamations (PPs) 9984, 9992, 10143, 10199, and similar subsequent PPs related to the spread of COVID-19.  As a result of this determination, together with national interest determinations already in place, travelers subject to these proclamations due to their presence in China, Iran, India, Brazil, South Africa, the Schengen area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, who are seeking to provide vital support or executive direction for critical infrastructure; those traveling to provide vital support or executive direction for significant economic activity in the United States; journalists; students and certain academics covered by exchange visitor programs; immigrants; and fiancés may now qualify for a National Interest Exception (NIE).  Qualified travelers who are applying for or have valid visas or ESTA authorization may travel to the United States following the procedures below, even as PPs 9984, 9992, 10143, and 10199 remain in effect.

Travelers in categories described above who have a valid visa in the appropriate class or who have a valid ESTA authorization for travel under the Visa Waiver Program and seek to travel for purposes consistent with ESTA authorization, should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate before traveling, if they believe they may qualify for a National Interest Exception.  If a NIE is approved, they may travel on either a valid visa or ESTA authorization, as appropriate.  Each approved NIE is valid for 30 days and a single trip to the United States. [NAFSA note: The July 6, 2021 NIE statement extended individual (non-blanket) NIEs to 12 months of validity for multiple entry.]

Students with valid F-1 or M-1 visas traveling to begin or continue an academic program do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual NIE to travel.  They may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the start of their academic studies.  NIE eligibility for students who have been present in Brazil, China, India, Iran, or South Africa applies only to programs that begin on or after August 1, 2021. Students seeking to apply for new F-1 or M-1 visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest embassy or consulate; those applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for an NIE to travel.

The Department of State also continues to grant NIEs for qualified travelers seeking to enter the United States for purposes related to humanitarian travel, public health response, and national security.  These travelers and any others who believe their travel to be in the United States' national interest should also review the website of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for instruction on how to contact them."

May 12, 2021 NIE statement:

"Presidential Proclamation on the Suspension of Entry as Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting Coronavirus Disease 2019

Last Updated: May 12, 2021

On April 30, 2021, President Biden signed a Proclamation suspending the entry of certain nonimmigrant travelers who have been physically present in India, which went into effect on Tuesday, May 4. Immigrants, U.S. citizens, and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) are not subject to the proclamation.  Some other exceptions include, but are not limited to: foreign diplomats traveling to the United States on A or G visas and certain family members of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents including spouses, minor children, parents (provided that his/her U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident child is unmarried and under the age of 21), and siblings (provided that both the sibling and the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident are unmarried and under the age of 21).  There is also an exception for air and sea crew traveling to the United States on C, D, or C1/D visas.  For the full list of those not subject to the Proclamation, please refer to the Proclamation text, available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/04/30/a-proclamation-on-the-suspension-of-entry-as-nonimmigrants-of-certain-additional-persons-who-pose-a-risk-of-transmitting-coronavirus-disease-2019/.

The Secretary of State has determined that the entry of the following travelers is in the national interest for purposes of exceptions to the geographic COVID Presidential Proclamations, including those subject to restrictions under this Proclamation:

  • Immigrants (not applicable to the restrictions under Proclamation 10199, which only covers nonimmigrant travel)
  • Fiancé(e)s
  • Students and certain academics covered by exchange visitor programs. Students subject to these geographic COVID proclamations due to their presence in India, China, Iran, Brazil, or South Africa may qualify for a National Interest Exception only if their academic program, including optional practical training (OPT), begins August 1, 2021 or later. Students with valid F-1 and M-1 visas intending to begin or continue an academic program, including OPT, beginning August 1, 2021 or later do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual National Interest Exception to travel. They may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the start of their academic studies. Students seeking to apply for new F-1 or M-1 visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest embassy or consulate; those applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for a national interest exception to travel.
  • Travelers who are seeking to provide vital support for critical infrastructure sectors or directly linked supply chains.
  • Journalists
  • Pilots and aircrew traveling to the United States for training or aircraft pickup, delivery, or maintenance, including individuals who are traveling to the United States on B-1/B-2, B-1, or M-1 visas, or Visa Waiver Program authorizations. This also include certain M-2 dependents when the principal visa holder's necessary training is four weeks or longer.
  • Certain exchange visitors, including:
    • Travel by an au pair to provide care for a minor U.S. citizen, LPR, or nonimmigrant in lawful status when the au pair possesses special skills required for a child with particular needs (e.g., medical, special education, or sign language).
    • Travel by an au pair that prevents a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident, or other nonimmigrant in lawful status from becoming a public health charge or ward of the state or ward of a medical or other public funded institution.
    • Travel by an au pair to provide childcare services for a child whose parents are involved with giving medical care to individuals who have contracted COVID-19, or who are conducting medical research at United States facilities to help the United States combat COVID-19.
    • Travel for an exchange program conducted pursuant to an MOU, Statement of Intent, or other valid agreement or arrangement between a foreign government and any federal, state, or local government entity in the United States that is designed to promote U.S. national interests if the agreement or arrangement with the foreign government was in effect prior to June 24, 2020, such as https://eca.state.gov/fulbright.
    • Travel by interns and trainees on U.S. government agency-sponsored programs (those with a program number beginning with "G-3" on Form DS-2019): An exchange visitor participating in an exchange visitor program in which he or she will be hosted by a U.S. government agency and the program supports the immediate and continued economic recovery of the United States.
    • Travel by specialized teachers in accredited educational institutions with a program number beginning with "G-5" on Form DS-2019: An exchange visitor participating in an exchange program in which he or she will teach full-time, including a substantial portion that is in person, in a publicly or privately operated primary or secondary accredited educational institution where the applicant demonstrates ability to make a specialized contribution to the education of students in the United States. A "specialized teacher" applicant must demonstrate native or near-native foreign language proficiency and the ability to teach his/her assigned subject(s) in that language.
    • Travel in support of critical foreign policy objectives: This only includes exchange visitors participating in a small number of exchange programs that fulfill critical and time sensitive foreign policy objectives.
  • Derivative family members accompanying or following to join a noncitizen who has been granted, would be reasonably expected to receive an NIE, or is otherwise not subject to the Proclamations and who is engaging in certain types of long-term employment, studies, or research lasting four weeks or more.

The Department of State also continues to grant National Interest Exceptions for qualified travelers seeking to enter the United States for purposes related to humanitarian travel, public health response, and national security. These travelers and any others who believe their travel to be in the United States' national interest should also review the website of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for instructions on how to contact them.

Travelers in these categories who wish to visit the United States and have a valid visa in the appropriate class, or who are seeking to apply for a visa, and believe they may qualify for a national interest exception should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate before traveling.

If circumstances warrant, the Secretary of State may revise the national interest determinations at any time.

For a complete list of COVID-related Presidential Proclamations currently in effect, see here."

For reference only. On May 13, 2021, DOS posted the following NIE policy update, but it no longer appears on the travel.state.gov website following the subsequent May 27, 2021 update. We transcribe the May 13, 2021 policy statement below, for research and refernce purposes only:

"National Interest Exceptions for Certain Travelers from China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland

Last Updated: May 13, 2021

On April 26, 2021, the Secretary of State made a national interest determination regarding categories of travelers to be excepted from Presidential Proclamations (PPs) 9984, 9992, and 10143 related to the spread of COVID-19.  As a result of this determination, together with national interest determinations already in place, travelers subject to these proclamations, due to their presence in China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the Schengen area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, who are seeking to provide vital support for critical infrastructure; journalists; and students and certain academics covered by exchange visitor programs, among others, may now qualify for a National Interest Exception (NIE).

Students and academics subject to these proclamations due to their presence in China, Iran, Brazil, or South Africa may qualify for an NIE only if their academic program begins August 1, 2021 or later. Derivative family members accompanying a noncitizen who has been granted or would be reasonably expected to receive an NIE  and who is engaging in certain types of long-term employment, studies, or research lasting four weeks or more are also excepted.  Qualified travelers who are applying for or have valid visas or ESTA authorization may travel to the United States following the procedures below.

Students with valid F-1 and M-1 visas intending to begin or continue an academic program, including optional practical training (OPT), starting August 1, 2021 or later do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to travel.  They may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the start of their academic program.  Students seeking to apply for new F-1 or M-1 visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest embassy or consulate; those applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for an NIE to travel.

Travelers in categories described above who have a valid visa or who have a valid ESTA authorization should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate before traveling if they believe they may qualify for an NIE. If an NIE is approved, they may travel on either a valid visa or ESTA authorization, as appropriate.

The Department of State also continues to grant NIEs for qualified travelers seeking to enter the United States for purposes related to humanitarian travel, public health response, and national security.  These travelers and any others who believe their travel to be in the United States' national interest should also review the website of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for instruction on how to contact them.

As with all NIEs for qualified travelers seeking to enter the United States under a Presidential Proclamation, if circumstances warrant, the Secretary of State may revise the national interest determination."

National Interest Exceptions for immigrants, fiancé(e) visa holders, certain exchange visitors, and certain pilots and aircrew traveling to the United States

On April 8, 2021, DOS announced the following additional NIE exceptions. Most significantly in this set of exceptions: "Immigrant Visa processing posts may now grant immigrant and fiancé(e) visas to applicants otherwise eligible, notwithstanding these proclamations."

Note that whereas Proclamations 9984, 9982, and 10143 covering travel from China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland restrict entry by both "immigrants or nonimmigrants," the April 30, 2021 proclamation covering travel from India restricts only entry by "nonimmigrants."

Because the India proclamation only restricts entry by nonimmigrants, a National Interest Waiver for immigrants (e.g., securing or entering on immigrant visas) is not needed for someone who was in India in the 14-day period before entry to the United States.

"Updates to National Interest Exceptions for Regional COVID Proclamations

Last Updated: April 8, 2021

The Secretary has determined that the travel of immigrants, fiancé(e) visa holders, certain exchange visitors, and pilots and aircrew traveling to the United States for training or aircraft pickup, delivery, or maintenance is in the national interest for purposes of approving exceptions under the geographic COVID Presidential Proclamations (9984, 9992, and 10143).  These proclamations restrict the entry of individuals physically present, within the 14-day period prior to their attempted entry into the United States, in the People's Republic of China, Islamic Republic of Iran, Schengen Area, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Federative Republic of Brazil, or Republic of South Africa. This article provides further details regarding this determination.

National Interest Exceptions for Immigrants and Fiancé(e)s

On April 8, 2021, the Secretary of State determined that travel on an immigrant or fiancé(e) visa is in the national interest for purposes of granting exceptions under the geographic COVID proclamations.   Immigrant Visa processing posts may now grant immigrant and fiancé(e) visas to applicants otherwise eligible, notwithstanding these proclamations.

Immigrant and K fiancé visa applicants present in South Africa, Brazil, the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, the People's Republic of China, and the Islamic Republic of Iran should review the website of the nearest embassy or consulate which processes immigrant visas to verify which visa services are currently available, as the volume and type of visa cases each post is able to process, given the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, will depend on local circumstances.  At posts where immigrant visa processing is available, immigrant visas will be prioritized in accordance with the Department's guidance on the phased resumption of visa services.  An embassy or consulate will resume adjudicating all routine visa cases only when it is safe to do so and adequate resources are available.  As local conditions improve, our missions will begin providing additional services, culminating eventually in a complete resumption of routine visa services.  We are unable to provide a specific date for when each mission will resume specific visa services.  Applicants should monitor embassy and consulate websites for updates on availability of visa services.

After meeting demand for services for U.S. citizens, embassies and consulates will continue to prioritize immediate  family members of U.S. citizens including intercountry adoptions and spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens, as well as fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens, and certain Special Immigrant Visa applications, in accordance with the phased resumption of visa services guidance.

National Interest Exceptions for Certain Exchange Visitors

On April 8, 2021, the Secretary of State determined that travel by certain exchange visitors is in the national interest for purposes of granting exceptions under the geographic COVID Presidential Proclamations.  Based on the Secretary's determination, national interest exceptions under these proclamations may be approved for the following categories of travel:

  • Travel by an au pair to provide care for a minor U.S. citizen, LPR, or nonimmigrant in lawful status when the au pair possesses special skills required for a child with particular needs (e.g., medical, special education, or sign language).
  • Travel by an au pair that prevents a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident, or other nonimmigrant in lawful status from becoming a public health charge or ward of the state or of a medical or other public funded institution.
  • Travel by an au pair to provide childcare services for a child whose parents are involved with the provision of medical care to individuals who have contracted COVID-19 or medical research at United States facilities to help the United States combat COVID-19.
  • Travel for an exchange program conducted pursuant to an MOU, Statement of Intent, or other valid agreement or arrangement between a foreign government and any federal, state, or local government entity in the United States that is designed to promote U.S. national interests if the agreement or arrangement with the foreign government was in effect prior to June 24, 2020.
  • Travel by Interns and Trainees on U.S. government agency-sponsored programs (those with a program number beginning with "G-3" on Form DS-2019): An exchange visitor participating in an exchange visitor program in which he or she will be hosted by a U.S. government agency and the program supports the immediate and continued economic recovery of the United States.
  • Travel by Specialized Teachers in Accredited Educational Institutions with a program number beginning with "G-5" on Form DS-2019: An exchange visitor participating in an exchange program in which he or she will teach full-time, including a substantial portion that is in person, in a publicly or privately operated primary or secondary accredited educational institution where the applicant demonstrates ability to make a specialized contribution to the education of students in the United States.  A "specialized teacher" applicant must demonstrate native or near-native foreign language proficiency and the ability to teach his/her assigned subject(s) in that language.
  • Travel in support of critical foreign policy objectives: This only includes exchange visitors participating in a small number of exchange programs that fulfill critical and time sensitive foreign policy objectives.

Travelers in these categories who wish to visit the United States and have a valid visa in the appropriate class, or who are seeking to apply for a visa, and believe they may qualify for a National Interest Exception should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate before traveling.

National Interest Exceptions for Pilots and Air Crew Traveling for Training and Aircraft Pickup, Delivery, or Maintenance

On April 8, 2021, the Secretary of State determined that travel by pilots and aircrew for training or aircraft pickup, delivery, or maintenance is in the national interest for purposes of granting exceptions under the geographic Presidential Proclamations. This includes individuals who are traveling to the United States for training or aircraft pickup, delivery, or maintenance on B-1/B-2, B-1, or M-1 visas, or Visa Waiver Program authorizations. The determination also covers certain M-2 dependents when the principal's necessary training is four weeks or more.  Access by qualified pilots and other essential air crew to aircraft maintenance, as well as simulator training, continuing education such as proficiency checks, and other vital safety certification courses offered in the United States, is an important component of safe skies.  Therefore, we intend to continue issuing visas to eligible applicants for such travelers, on the basis of national interest exceptions, as permitted by post resources and local government restrictions.

Visa applicants will be considered for an exception at the time of interview.  Travelers who already hold valid visas or Visa Waiver Program authorization and believe they meet the exception criteria should follow the procedures set forth on the Embassy/Consulate website where their visa was processed or nearest their residence for consideration for an exception under the geographic Presidential Proclamations."

Litigation on the COVID-19 geographic entry bans

On April 7, 2021, a suit was filed in federal district court against the U.S. Department of State (DOS) to challenge DOS's position that a suspension of entry under one of the COVID-19 geographic travel bans requires a suspension of visa processing and issuance. Under the DOS policy, individuals without the required visa must travel to a third country not subject to a COVID-19 14-day entry ban and apply for a visa in that country. The plaintiffs argue that DOS should allow visa applicants within one of the designated countries to apply for and receive a visa in that country, to allow them to then go to a third country to quarantine for 14 days before continuing on the the United States.

The case is Kinsley et al v. Blinken et al, Case #: 1:21-cv-00962, District Of Columbia District Court, filed April 7, 2021. Docket on PacerMonitor. Read the redacted complaint.


COVID-19-related sanctions under INA 243(d)

On April 10, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump issued Memorandum on Visa Sanctions, to direct the Secretary of Homeland Security to notify the Secretary of State "if any government of a foreign country denies or unreasonably delays the acceptance of aliens who are citizens, subjects, nationals, or residents of that country after being asked to accept those aliens, and if such denial or delay is impeding operations of the Department of Homeland Security necessary to respond to the ongoing pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2." The memorandum then directs that after receiving such notification, the Secretary of State must "as expeditiously as possible, but no later than 7 days after receipt, adopt and initiate a plan to impose the visa sanctions provided for in section 243(d) of the INA." See NAFSA's INA 243(d) page for details on this provision of law.  The April 10, 2020 memorandum was originally set to expire on December 31, 2020, but on December 30 President Trump issued Memorandum on Extension of Memorandum on Visa Sanctions, providing that "[t]his memorandum shall continue in force until terminated by the President. The Secretary of State, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall, as appropriate and as United States foreign policy interests and continuing public health risks may warrant, submit a joint recommendation for such termination."


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 Phased 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."

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.

The DOS resumption of routine visa services message, transcribed below, was originally posted on July 14, 2020 and was last updated on April 6, 2021 with messaging focusing on the challenges of reopening that have reduced appointment capacity and created a "significant backlog of both immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applications awaiting a visa interview." The page also contains several FAQs. The first FAQ states that, "after meeting demand for services to U.S. citizens... "Posts processing nonimmigrant visa applications will continue to prioritize travelers with urgent travel needs, foreign diplomats, and certain mission critical categories of travelers such as those coming to assist with the U.S. response to the pandemic, followed by students and exchange visitors (F-1, M-1, and J-1) and temporary employment visas."

Phased Resumption of Routine Visa Services

Last Updated: April 6, 2021

  • The COVID-19 pandemic continues to severely affect the ability of embassies and consulates around the world to be able to resume routine visa services. The particular constraints vary based on local conditions and restrictions, but include local and national lockdowns; travel restrictions; host country quarantine regulations; and measures taken by our embassies and consulates to contain the spread of COVID-19. Combined, these restrictions have reduced appointment capacity during the pandemic, which has created a significant backlog of both immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants awaiting a visa interview.  The State Department is working to reduce this backlog while ensuring the safety of our staff and applicants and protecting our national security.  
  • The provision of services to U.S. citizens abroad is the first priority of consular sections abroad.  With respect to visa services, for consular sections that have the capacity, the processing of immigrant and fiancée visas, particularly for immediate relatives and other family-sponsored applicants, is our highest priority.  U.S. Embassies and Consulates are also prioritizing the processing of immigrant visa cases previously refused under the rescinded Presidential Proclamations 9645 and 9983.  
  • The Department is committed to transparently sharing the current status of our worldwide visa operations and will continue to provide regular updates. Information about the backlog in immigrant visa processing will be publicly available in the future.  
  • U.S. Embassies and Consulates that process nonimmigrant visa applications are prioritizing travelers with urgent needs, foreign diplomats, mission-critical categories of travelers (such as those coming to assist with the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and workers who are essential to the American food supply), followed by students, exchange visitors, and some temporary employment visas.  
  • Applicants should check the website of the nearest embassy or consulate for the current operating status.  
  • Information about nonimmigrant visa wait times are available on the visa wait time tool at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/wait-times.html.

FAQ

Q.  Which additional visa services are embassies/consulates beginning to provide?

  • All of our missions are continuing to provide emergency and mission-critical visa services.  As post-specific conditions permit, and after meeting demand for services to U.S. citizens, our missions are phasing in processing some routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa cases.  Posts that process immigrant visa applications are prioritizing Immediate Relative family members of U.S. citizens, including intercountry adoptions, fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens, and certain Special Immigrant Visa applications.  Posts processing nonimmigrant visa applications will continue to prioritize travelers with urgent travel needs, foreign diplomats, and certain mission critical categories of travelers such as those coming to assist with the U.S. response to the pandemic, followed by students and exchange visitors (F-1, M-1, and J-1) and temporary employment visas.  Posts that process both immigrant and nonimmigrant visas will prioritize immigrant visas while still providing some nonimmigrant services.  The volume and type of visa cases each post will process depends on local circumstances.  An embassy or consulate will resume adjudicating all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa cases only when adequate resources are available, and it is safe to do so.

Q.  What criteria are missions using to determine when to resume routine services?

  • We are closely monitoring local conditions in each country where we have a U.S. presence.  Local conditions that may affect when we can begin providing various public services include medical infrastructure, COVID-19 cases, emergency response capabilities, and host/local government restrictions.

Q.  What steps are being taken to protect customers from the spread of COVID-19?

  • The health and safety of our workforce and customers remains paramount.  Our embassies and consulates are implementing safeguards to keep staff and customers safe, including implementing physical distancing in our waiting rooms, scheduling fewer interviews at a time, frequent disinfection of high touch areas, and following local health and safety regulations.

Q.  Do the various Presidential Proclamations/travel restrictions still apply, or are those lifting with the resumption of visa services?

  • The three geographical COVID-19 Proclamations (P.P. 9984, 9992, and 10143) remain in effect. These proclamations, with certain exceptions, place restrictions on visa issuance and entry into to the United States for individuals physically present in China, Iran, Brazil, UK, Ireland, South Africa, and the 26 countries in the Schengen area.   

Q: Is my situation an emergency? I need to go the United States immediately for X.

  • Applicants can find instructions on how to request an emergency visa appointment at the Embassy or Consulate's website.

Q.  What about my application fee that expired while routine services were suspended? 

  • The Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fee is valid within one year of the date of payment and may be used to schedule a visa appointment in the country where it was purchased.  However, the Department understands, as a result of the pandemic, many visa applicants have paid the visa application processing fee and are still waiting to schedule a visa appointment.  We are working diligently to restore all routine visa operations as quickly and safely as possible.  In the meantime, the Department extended the validity of MRV fees until September 30, 2022, to allow all applicants who were unable to schedule a visa appointment due to the suspension of routine consular operations an opportunity to schedule and/or attend a visa appointment with the fee they already paid.

Immigrant Visa Prioritization

In an August 30, 2021 update to its Immigrant Visa Prioritization page, the Department of State said that it continues the following prioritization within immigrant visa (IV) processing:

"...U.S. embassies and consulates are using a tiered approach to triage immigrant visa applications based on the category of immigrant visa as they resume and expand processing.  While our consular sections, where possible, are scheduling some appointments within all four priority tiers every month, the following lists the main categories of immigrant visas in priority order:

  • Tier One: Immediate relative intercountry adoption visas, age-out cases (cases where the applicant will soon no longer qualify due to their age), and certain Special Immigrant Visas (SQ and SI for Afghan and Iraqi nationals working with the U.S. government)  
  • Tier Two:  Immediate relative visas; fiancé(e) visas; and returning resident visas  
  • Tier Three: Family preference immigrant visas and SE Special Immigrant Visas for certain employees of the U.S. government abroad  
  • Tier Four: All other immigrant visas, including employment preference and diversity visas

Many embassies and consulates continue to have a significant backlog of all categories of immigrant visas.  This prioritization plan instructs posts to maximize their limited resources to accommodate as many immediate relative and fiancé(e) cases as possible with a goal of, at a minimum, preventing the backlog from growing in these categories and hopefully reducing it. However, the prioritization plan also instructs posts to schedule and adjudicate some cases in Tier Three and Tier Four each month.  The Department recognizes that visa applicants, particularly those in Tiers Three and Four, will face continued delays.  We further acknowledge that certain programs, including the diversity visa program, operate on a fiscal year basis as required by law.  The Department values the diversity visa program and is making every effort to process as many diversity visa cases as possible, consistent with other priorities, despite the severe operational constraints and backlog resulting from the COVID pandemic.  However, as a result of COVID the number of visas issued in lower-priority preference categories or in such programs as the diversity visa program likely will not approach the statutory ceiling in Fiscal Year 2021.   

The Department recently clarified guidance on emergency cases.  Recognizing the emergence of the COVID Delta variant and the continued demand for healthcare professionals during the pandemic, U.S. embassies and consulates were instructed that they may prioritize as emergencies on a case-by-case basis the immigrant visa cases of certain healthcare professionals who will work at a facility engaged in pandemic response.  Healthcare professionals who will work at a facility engaged in pandemic response and have an approved U.S. immigrant visa petition with a current priority date for an Immediate Relative, Family Preference, or Employment-Based Preference case may review the website of their nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for procedures to request an emergency visa appointment.  If the case is being processed at the National Visa Center (NVC), the applicant may request expedited processing by emailing [email protected], including the case or receipt number on the subject line, along with at least one of the following: (1) petitioner’s name and date of birth, (2) beneficiary’s name and date of birth, and/or (3) invoice ID number.  Applicants should be prepared to show that they will be employed in the healthcare industry at a U.S. facility engaged in pandemic response.  Resource constraints and local government restrictions may limit the ability of some U.S. embassies and consulates to process emergency visas at this time."

Expansion of Visa Interview Waivers

A September 14, 2021 announcement states that the Department of State "has authorized consular officers through the end of 2021 to expand the categories of F, M, and “academic J visa applicants” (students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists) whose applications can be adjudicated without an in-person interview in their consular district of residence, with certain exceptions.  Consular officers may, if they so choose, and pursuant to local conditions, now waive the visa interview requirement for:"

  • "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 the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), provided they have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility.  This applies only to non-U.S. citizens who are nationals of eligible countries... Applicants from non VWP countries whose prior visa was issued when they were less than 14 years of age, may need to submit biometric fingerprints, but can still be approved for an interview waiver."

"...Details about country eligibility and necessary procedures will be available on the website of the relevant embassy or consulate..."

The Department of State previously had temporarily expanded visa interview waiver eligibility under 22 CFR 102(b)(3). That provision 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, 2021, the temporary expansion allows such waivers if the prior visa has not expired more than 48 months ago. See NAFSA's page for additional details.

Mission China Update

On April 29, 2021, NAFSA received unofficial confirmation from the State Department that U.S. consulates in China plan to begin interviewing students as early as the week of May 3, 2021, and will try to handle as many students as possible, consistent with health and safety conditions.

Mission India Update

Follow Mission India visa processing updates for 2021 on the U.S. embassy in India's website: https://in.usembassy.gov/visas/.

Also see the note above regarding implementation of a COVID 14-day entry ban on travelers from India.

Visas for Medical Professionals

April 8, 2020 message on travel.state.gov. "Despite the worldwide suspension of routine visa services, U.S. embassies and consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services to the extent possible, given resource constraints and local government restrictions.  Medical professionals with an approved U.S. non-immigrant or immigrant visa petition (I-129 or I-140 with a current priority date, or similar) or a certificate of eligibility in an approved exchange visitor program (DS-2019), particularly those working to treat or mitigate the effects of COVID-19, should review the website of their nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for procedures to request an emergency visa appointment.  Local government restrictions may limit the ability of some embassies/consulates to process emergency visas at this time.  Applicants' travel may also be subject to local laws, regulations, and travel restrictions."... "For those foreign medical professionals already in the United States: J-1 Alien Physicians (medical residents) may consult with their program sponsor, ECFMG, to extend their programs in the United States.  Generally, a J-1 program for a foreign medical resident can be extended one year at a time for up to seven years."

March 26, 2020 on travel.state.gov. "We encourage medical professionals with an approved U.S. non-immigrant or immigrant visa petition (I-129, I-140, or similar) or a certificate of eligibility in an approved exchange visitor program (DS-2019), particularly those working to treat or mitigate the effects of COVID-19, to review the website of their nearest embassy or consulate for procedures to request a visa appointment..." The Washington Post reported that on Friday, the Department of State clarified that they were "only processing people already accepted for jobs or studies in the United States." The Post quoted Ian Brownlee, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, as saying that "we are not going out looking for others. These are people who were ready to come in." DOS later tweeted this clarification: "Please note that you must have an approved U.S. non-immigrant or immigrant visa petition (I-129, I-140, or similar) or a certificate of eligibility in an approved exchange visitor program (DS-2019) to apply."

Consular Affairs Theme from EVP March 27, 2020 Teleconference

On March 27, 2020, the Department of State hosted a teleconference for J-1 exchange program sponsors, and posted a set of questions and answers arising out of that event. Reproduced below are the questions and answers from the "Consular Affairs theme."

Q1: When do you expect US Embassies and Consulates to open for J1 interviews? Will there be refunds available for the applicants if they cannot attend because the US Embassies and Consulates are not open?

(A) Routine visa services will resume as soon as possible, but a specific date cannot be provided at this time. A visa fee is valid to make an appointment one year from the date of payment. No visa fee refunds are available at this time for those applicants who have not been able to schedule or cannot attend a visa interview due to a COVID-19-related closure.

Q2: Once nonimmigrant visa interviews start happening again, will priority be given to those whose visa eligibility deadline would be coming up soon in terms of an interview slot?

(A) At the appropriate time, the Visa Office will provide guidance to our visa sections worldwide on the resumption of routine visa services. As a matter of general operating procedure, most visa sections worldwide schedule visa interviews for students and exchange visitors separately from regular B1/B2 visa applicants (visitors for business and tourism). Therefore, the wait time for a student or exchange visitor is generally much shorter than the wait time for a B1/B2 applicant. In addition, our visa sections worldwide routinely expedite visa interviews for students and exchange visitors upon request if there is a compelling need to expedite visa processing.

Q3: Is the Department considering a visa application process that substitutes video interviews for in-person interviews in order to expedite the process when consular sections reopen?

(A) The Department of State has no plans to substitute video interviews for the in-person visa interview.

Q4: Could the Consulates and Embassies especially in China and India where we have high student populations consider issuing student and scholar visas (F & J) via mail in documents and interviews via skype or face time, instead of in person?

(A) The Department of State has no plans to substitute video interviews for the in-person visa interview. Consular officers may grant interview waivers for those renewing a visa in the same visa classification. To be eligible for a potential interview waiver, the F, M, or J visa applicant's application must have been filed within 12 months of the expiration of his or her prior visa in the same category.


Controls at Land Ports of Entry on Canadian and Mexican Borders

For additional background, also see: Congressional Research Service (CRS) Legal Sidebar: Entry Restrictions at the Northern and Southern Borders in Response to COVID-19 (April 27, 2020).

Canada-Mexico "Essential Travel" Restrictions

Two Federal Register notices published on March 24, 2020 announced the decision to temporarily allow entry to the United States through land ports of entry along the U.S.-Canada and U.S. Mexico borders for "essential travel" only. The restrictions have been consistently extended on a monthly basis, and will be in effect until 11:59 p.m. EDT on October 21, 2021.

The notices are modeled identically for entry through the respective land borders. The restrictions went into effect at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) on March 20, 2020 and have been extended until 11:59 p.m. EDT on October 21, 2021.

According to the notices, during the effective dates of the restrictions:

"... travel through the land ports of entry and ferry terminals along the [... United States-Canada and United States-Mexico borders] ... shall be limited to "essential travel," which includes, but is not limited to-

  • U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the United States;
  • Individuals traveling for medical purposes (e.g., to receive medical treatment in the United States);
  • Individuals traveling to attend educational institutions; *
  • Individuals traveling to work in the United States (e.g., individuals working in the farming or agriculture industry who must travel between the United States and Canada in furtherance of such work);
  • Individuals traveling for emergency response and public health purposes (e.g., government officials or emergency responders entering the United States to support Federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial government efforts to respond to COVID-19 or other emergencies);
  • Individuals engaged in lawful cross-border trade (e.g., truck drivers supporting the movement of cargo between the United States and Canada);
  • Individuals engaged in official government travel or diplomatic travel;
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the spouses and children of members of the U.S. Armed Forces, returning to the United States; and
  • Individuals engaged in military-related travel or operations.

The following travel does not fall within the definition of "essential travel" for purposes of this Notification-

  • Individuals traveling for tourism purposes (e.g., sightseeing, recreation, gambling, or attending cultural events).

At this time, this Notification does not apply to air, freight rail, or sea travel between [the United States and Canada and the United States and Mexico], but does apply to passenger rail and ferry travel between the [the United States and Canada and the United States and Mexico]. These restrictions are temporary in nature and shall remain in effect until 11:59 p.m. EDT on [April 21, 2021]. This Notification may be amended or rescinded prior to that time, based on circumstances associated with the specific threat."

* The Canada and Mexico land port of entry restrictions include as coming for essential travel "Individuals traveling to attend educational institutions." It is unclear whether "traveling to attend" also covers students who are studying online under their school's COVID-19 policy and who wish to travel through land ports of entry.

Canada-Mexico "Congregate Settings" Restrictions

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) orders suspend "the introduction of persons into the United States" who are traveling from Canada or Mexico (regardless of their country of origin) "who would otherwise be introduced into a congregate setting in a land Port of Entry (POE) or Border Patrol station at or near the United States borders with Canada and Mexico," subject to important exceptions described below. The congregate settings restrictions will remain in effect "until the CDC Director determines that the danger of further introduction of COVID-19 into the United States from covered aliens has ceased to be a serious danger to the public health."

Sources

  • 85 FR 17060 (March 26, 2020), original CDC Order effective for 30 days from March 20, 2020 through April 20, 2020
  • 85 FR 17060 (April 20, 2020), 30-day extension through May 20, 2020
  • 85 FR 31503  (May 26, 2020), indefinite extension "until the CDC Director determines that the danger of further introduction of COVID-19 into the United States from covered aliens has ceased to be a serious danger to the public health," to be reviewed every 30 days

The order states that it is not applicable to, among others, "Persons from foreign countries who hold valid travel documents." While this appears to cover properly documented nonimmigrants such as students, exchange visitors, H-1B workers, TN workers, etc. it is still unclear whether a port of entry's regular "secondary inspection" area would constitute a "congregate setting" under the order, and if so how it might impact individuals with valid travel documents who would need to pass through ordinary "secondary inspection" at a port of entry."

Summary

The original order was effective March 20, 2020, for 30 days. In a Federal Register notice published on April 21, 2020, but effective April 20, 2020, the CDC extended the "congregate settings" restrictions for 30 additional days, until 11:59 p.m. on May 20, 2020. On May 26, 2020, the CDC issued an indefinite extension notice at published at 85 FR 31503 (May 26, 2020), under which the congregate settings restrictions will continue "until the CDC Director determines that the danger of further introduction of COVID-19 into the United States from covered aliens has ceased to be a serious danger to the public health." That notice also says that "CDC shall review the latest information regarding the status of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated public health risks every thirty days to ensure that the Order remains necessary to protect the public health."

The order is designed principally to block entry of "persons who are traveling from Canada or Mexico (regardless of their country of origin), and who must be held longer in congregate settings in POEs or Border Patrol stations to facilitate immigration processing, would typically be aliens seeking to enter the United States at POEs who do not have proper travel documents, aliens whose entry is otherwise contrary to law, and aliens who are apprehended near the border seeking to unlawfully enter the United States between POEs. This order is intended to cover all such aliens."

The order directs that the individuals covered by it (covered aliens) be moved "to the country from which they entered the United States, or their country of origin, or another location as practicable, as rapidly as possible, with as little time spent in congregate settings as practicable under the circumstances." U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) developed an operational plan for implementing the order, and DHS will, where necessary, use repatriation flights to move covered aliens.

The order states that it is not applicable to, among others, "Persons from foreign countries who hold valid travel documents." While this would appear to cover properly documented nonimmigrants such as students, exchange visitors, H-1B workers, TN workers, etc. it is still unclear whether a port of entry's regular "secondary inspection" area would constitute a "congregate setting" under the order, and if so how it might impact individuals with valid travel documents who would need to pass through ordinary "secondary inspection" at a port of entry.

The order does not apply to:

  • U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents
  • Persons from foreign countries who hold valid travel documents
  • Persons from foreign countries in the visa waiver program who are not subject to travel restrictions
  • Where a designated DHS customs officer determines, based on the totality of the circumstances, including consideration of significant law enforcement, officer and public safety, humanitarian, and public health interests, that the Order should not be applied to a specific person otherwise subject to the order
  • Members of the armed forces of the United States and associated personnel for whom the Secretary of Defense provides assurance to the Director that the Secretary of Defense, through measures such as quarantine, isolation, or other measures for maintaining control over such individuals, is preventing the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to others in the United States.

Additional Background

To enable orders of this type, CDC published an interim final rule in the Federal Register at 85 FR 16559 (March 24, 2020, effective 11:59 p.m. EDT on March 20, 2020) that added a new regulatory provision at 42 CFR 71.40. CDC then published this as a final rule on September 11, 2020, at 85 FR 56424 (September 11, 2020). The authority cited for the regulation and the order is the Public Health Service (PHS) Act, codified at 42 USC 216, 243, and 361-369. These PHS Act provisions enable the CDC Director to prohibit the introduction into the United States of persons from designated foreign countries (or one or more political subdivisions and regions thereof) or places, for a period that the Director deems necessary for the public health, if the Director determines that:

(1) By reason of the existence of any communicable disease in a foreign country (or one or more political subdivisions or regions thereof) or place, there is serious danger of the introduction of such communicable disease into the United States, and

(2) This danger is so increased by the introduction of persons from such country (or one or more political subdivisions or regions thereof) or place that a suspension of the introduction of such persons into the United States is required in the interest of the public health.


Airports and Flights

Executive Order on Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel

Executive Order 13988 of January 21, 2021, titled Executive Order on Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel, directs 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.

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."

See NAFSA's page on Executive Order 13988 for details.

CDC Order Requiring all Passengers on U.S.-Bound Flights to Have COVID-19 Viral Test

On January 12, 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stated that CDC has issued "an Order requiring all air passengers arriving to the US from a foreign country to get tested no more than 3 days before their flight departs and to provide proof of the negative result or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 to the airline before boarding the flight. This Order will go into effect on January 26, 2021."

A set of CDC Frequently Asked Questions clarifies that "This Order applies to all air passengers, 2 years of age or older, traveling into the US, including US citizens and legal permanent residents."

A January 12, 2021 CDC media statement said that effective January 26, 2021:

"Air passengers are required to get a viral test (a test for current infection) within the 3 days before their flight to the U.S. departs, and provide written documentation of their laboratory test result (paper or electronic copy) to the airline or provide documentation of having recovered from COVID-19. Airlines must confirm the negative test result for all passengers or documentation of recovery before they board. If a passenger does not provide documentation of a negative test or recovery, or chooses not to take a test, the airline must deny boarding to the passenger... This order was signed by the CDC Director on January 12, 2021 and will become effective on January 26, 2021."

The CDC order itself provides:

"[T]his Notice and Order prohibit the introduction into the United States of any aircraft passenger departing from any foreign country unless the passenger: (1) has a negative pre-departure test result for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 (Qualifying Test); or (2) written or electronic documentation of recovery from COVID-19 after previous SARS-CoV-2 infection in the form of a positive viral test result and a letter from a licensed health care provider or public health official stating that the passenger has been cleared for travel (Documentation of Recovery).

The negative pre-departure test must be a viral test that was conducted on a specimen collected during the 3 days preceding the flight’s departure from a foreign country (Qualifying Test). Alternatively, if the passenger has recovered from COVID-19, the passenger may instead travel with written or electronic documentation of a positive viral test result that confirms previous SARS-CoV-2 infection and a letter from a licensed health care provider or public health official stating that the passenger has been cleared for travel (Documentation of Recovery). A passenger must retain written or electronic documentation reflecting the negative Qualifying Test result or Documentation of Recovery presented to the airline or other aircraft operator. A passenger must also produce such Qualifying Test result or Documentation of Recovery upon request to any U.S. government official or a cooperating state or local public health authority."

On January 21, 2021, President Biden issued Executive Order on Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel, which directs relevant agencies to assess the January 12, 2021 CDC order requiring a negative COVID-19 test result for airline passengers traveling into the United States, and, based on that assessment, take any further appropriate actions and planning regarding air, land, and sea travel.

On January 25, 2021, the Department of State published a Fact Sheet titled, Negative COVID-19 Test Required for Travel to the United States Beginning January 26.

Quarantine of U.S. citizens returning from China

In a January 31, 2020 Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) press briefing, Secretary Alex Azar declared that the Novel Coronavirus represents a public health emergency in the United States. Secretary Azar also announced that effective 5 p.m. EST on Sunday, February 2, the following restrictions on U.S. citizens returning from travels in China will be implemented:

  • Any U.S. citizen returning to the United States who has been in Hubei province in the 14 days prior to their entry to the United States will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine to ensure they have been provided proper medical care and health screening
  • Any U.S. citizen returning to the United States who has been anywhere else in mainland China in the 14 days prior to their entry to the United States will undergo "proactive entry health screening at a select number of ports of entry," and up to 14 days of "monitored self-quarantine" to ensure they've not contracted the virus and do not pose a public health risk.

For details, see:

Designated U.S. airports

Proclamation 9984 of January 31, 2020 directed DHS "to regulate the travel of persons and aircraft to the United States to facilitate the orderly medical screening and, where appropriate, quarantine of persons who enter the United States and who may have been exposed to the virus. Such steps may include directing air carriers to restrict and regulate the boarding of such passengers on flights to the United States." To implement this, joint U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Federal Register notices directed all aircraft operators to ensure that all flights carrying persons, including U.S. citizens and permanent residents and others not subject to any of the five country-specific Presidential Proclamation coronavirus bans who within the last 14 days traveled from, or were otherwise present within, one of the countries designated in the Presidential Proclamations only land at one of 15 designated airports.

On September 15, 2020, CBP and TSA published a joint notice in the Federal Register (85 FR 57108) that terminated these designated arrival airport restrictions, effective September 14, 2020. However, this notice only terminates the restriction that required visitors arriving from one of the proclamation-subject countries to land at one of 15 designated U.S. airports. The country-specific coronavirus proclamations themselves remain in place until terminated by the President.

The notice states:

"Terminating this effort will allow public health resources to be more effectively reprioritized for other containment and mitigation efforts and will stimulate air travel.  Continuing activities will include an illness reporting system and a passenger education process carried out in tandem with other enhanced public health measures implemented within the passenger air transportation system in collaboration with industry.  This notice does not affect those other public health measures, which will remain in place as long as appropriate.  Appropriate traveler health education materials will continue to be made available to passengers arriving from foreign countries.  Health education information will continue to be displayed at ports of entry."

Also see a CDC statement for that agency's perspective on this change.

Status of Passenger Flights by Chinese Airlines to and from the United States

On June 15, 2020, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued Order 2020-6-6 "to permit Chinese carriers to operate, in the aggregate, a total of four weekly round-trip scheduled passenger flights to and from the United States, an aggregate level of scheduled passenger services that would be equivalent to that permitted by Chinese aviation authorities for U.S. carriers."

Background

On June 3, 2020, DOT issued Order 2020-6-1 that was set to automatically go into effect on June 16, 2020. Order 2020-6-1 would have suspended "passenger operations of all Chinese carriers to and from the United States," due to "the failure of the Government of the People's Republic of China (China) to permit U.S. carriers to exercise the full extent of their bilateral right to conduct scheduled passenger air services to and from China." The The Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) began revising its restrictions on U.S. flights in response, which led to DOT revising its original order as follows:

  • On June 5, 2019, DOT issued Order 2020-6-3 to "permit Chinese carriers to operate, in the aggregate, a total of two weekly round-trip scheduled passenger flights to and from the United States, an aggregate level of scheduled passenger services that would be equivalent to that permitted by Chinese aviation authorities for U.S. carriers." Order 2020-6-3 left it up to the CAAC to communicate to DOT "by letter which carrier(s) it selects to operate each or both of these two services."
  • On June 15, 2020, DOT issued Order 2020-6-6, "to permit Chinese carriers to operate, in the aggregate, a total of four weekly round-trip scheduled passenger flights to and from the United States, an aggregate level of scheduled passenger services that would be equivalent to that permitted by Chinese aviation authorities for U.S. carriers."
  • On August 18, 2020, DOT issued Order 2020-8-6 "to permit Chinese carriers to operate, in the aggregate, a total of eight weekly round-trip scheduled passenger flights to and from the United States, an aggregate level of scheduled passenger services that would be equivalent to that permitted by Chinese aviation authorities for U.S. carriers."

The carrier(s) the CAAC selects to run the weekly flights will be from among the following list:

  1. Air China Limited (doing business as Air China)
  2. Beijing Capital Airlines Co., Ltd.
  3. China Eastern Airlines Corporation Limited
  4. Hainan Airlines Holding Co. Ltd.
  5. Sichuan Airlines Co., Ltd.
  6. China Southern Airlines Company Limited
  7. Xiamen Airlines

The DOT order applies to scheduled passenger flights coming into and going out of the United States, but does not impact cargo operations. DOT states that, "Our overriding goal is not the perpetuation of this situation, but rather an improved environment wherein the carriers of both parties will be able to exercise fully their bilateral rights."


Expired and Revoked Coronavirus Presidential Proclamations

Two COVID-19 visa-related presidential proclamations have expired or been revoked.

June 22, 2020 Proclamation 10052 Suspending Entry of Certain H, J, and L Nonimmigrants

This proclamation expired on March 31, 2021. See NAFSA's page on Proclamation 10052 of June 22, 2020 for background and details.

April 22, 2020 Proclamation 10014 Limiting Entry of Certain Immigrants

This proclamation was revoked effective February 24, 2021. See NAFSA's page on Proclamation 10014 of April 22, 2020 for background and details.