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


COVID Vaccine Requirement Effective November 8, 2021

On October 25, 2021, President Biden issued a proclamation that, effective November 8, 2021, instituted a requirement that "noncitizens who are nonimmigrants" traveling to the United States by air from any part of the world establish that they are fully vaccinated, with some limited exceptions. All air travelers will also continue to have to show results of a negative pre-flight coronavirus test prior to boarding an aircraft in a foreign country destined to the United States, in addition to proof of vaccination.

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


Geographic COVID-19 Proclamations that are Currently in Effect

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


U.S. Consular and Visa Services

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

Advocacy on Visa Delays

Senators Ask DOS to Address Visa Backlog for International Students

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

NAFSA Meets With Department of State Regarding Consular Operations

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

General Resumption of Visa Services

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

The DOS resumption of routine visa services message, transcribed below, was originally posted on July 14, 2020 and was last updated on November 19, 2021 stating that DOS will now "focus on reducing wait times for all consular services at our embassies and consulates overseas while also protecting health and safety of our staff and applicants."

Visa Services Operating Status Update

Last Updated: November 19, 2021

As worldwide restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic begin to ease, and in line with the President's proclamation regarding the safe resumption of international travel, the Bureau of Consular Affairs will focus on reducing wait times for all consular services at our embassies and consulates overseas while also protecting health and safety of our staff and applicants.  Although local conditions and restrictions at individual consular posts may continue to fluctuate, the guidance to posts for the prioritization of consular services during the pandemic issued in November 2020 has been rescinded. Embassies and consulates have broad discretion to determine how to prioritize visa appointments among the range of visa classes as safely as possible, subject to local conditions and restrictions.

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

Expansion of Visa Interview Waivers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Controls at Land Ports of Entry on Canadian and Mexican Borders

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

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

In the October 12, 2021 announcement, Secretary Mayorkas is quoted:

"'In alignment with the new international air travel system that will be implemented in November, we will begin allowing travelers from Mexico and Canada who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to enter the United States for non-essential purposes, including to visit friends and family or for tourism, via land and ferry border crossings,' said Secretary Mayorkas. 'Cross-border travel creates significant economic activity in our border communities and benefits our broader economy. We are pleased to be taking steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner.'

The modifications to the Title 19 regulations will occur in two phases over the next few months.  First, in November, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will begin allowing fully vaccinated travelers from Mexico or Canada to enter the United States at land and ferry POEs for non-essential reasons. Travelers will be required to have appropriate paperwork that provides proof of vaccination. Individuals who have not been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 will not be allowed to travel for non-essential purposes from Canada and Mexico into the United States via land and ferry POEs

Second, beginning in early January 2022, DHS will require that all inbound foreign national travelers crossing U.S. land or ferry POEs – whether for essential or non-essential reasons – be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and provide related proof of vaccination. This approach will provide ample time for essential travelers such as truckers, students, and healthcare workers to get vaccinated.

This new travel system will create consistent, stringent protocols for all foreign nationals traveling to the United States – whether by air, land, or ferry – and accounts for the wide availability of COVID-19 vaccinations."

In a pair of Federal Register notices published on December 23, 2021, DHS confirmed that as of November 8, 2021, individuals who are fully vaccinated (under the same standards as for air travel) may enter the United States for "non-essential" purposes through land ports of entry at the Canada and Mexico borders. Those coming for "essential travel" may continue to enter the United States through those land ports of entry even if unvaccinated, until "early January" when the CDC and DHS are expected to require full vaccination for all land POE travelers in a way similar to air travelers. See:

  • 86 FR 72842 (December 23, 2021), lifting the "non-essential" entry ban for fully vaccinated individuals traveling through land ports of entry at the Canadian border
  • 86 FR 72843 (December 23, 2021), lifting the "non-essential" entry ban for fully vaccinated individuals traveling through land ports of entry at the Mexican border

Then on January 20, 2022 DHS announced:

“Starting on January 22, 2022, the Department of Homeland Security will require that non-U.S. individuals entering the United States via land ports of entry or ferry terminals along our Northern and Southern borders be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and be prepared to show related proof of vaccination,” said Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “These updated travel requirements reflect the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to protecting public health while safely facilitating the cross-border trade and travel that is critical to our economy.”

Series of Federal Register notices with original "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 January 21, 2022, "unless amended or rescinded prior to that time."

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 January 21, 2022, "unless amended or rescinded prior to that time."

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

Proclamation 10294 of October 25, 2021 does not institute new negative COVID-19 test requirements. Rather, in addition to being subject to the proof of vaccination requirements instituted by Proclamation 10294, nonimmigrants who are entering the United States through an air port of entry will also continue to be subject to CDC rules that require all travelers (regardless of citizenship) to present proof of receiving a negative pre-departure viral test result for COVID-19. Nonimmigrants subject to Proclamation 10294 of October 25, 2021 will have to show both proof of being fully vaccinated (or qualify under one of the narrow exceptions) and proof of a negative COVID-19 viral test.

On October 25, 2021 CDC amended its original January 25, 2021 Order, titled, "Requirement for Proof of Negative COVID-19 Test or Recovery from COVID-19 for All Air Passengers Arriving in the United States." The amendment updates COVID-19 testing requirements for air passengers 2 years or older boarding a flight to the United States, depending on COVID-19 vaccination status.

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