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

U.S. Consular and Visa Services

Update on Visas for Medical Professionals

Update on Visas for Medical Professionals. On Thursday, March 26, 2020, the travel.state.gov website posted: "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."

General Suspension of Routine Visa Services

The Department of State has suspended routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates. On March 20, 2020, travel.state.gov (U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs Visa Office) updated the following news alert:

  • "In response to worldwide challenges related to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Department of State is suspending routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates. Embassies and consulates will cancel all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments as of March 20, 2020. As resources allow, embassies and consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services. Our overseas missions will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time.
  • Services to U.S. citizens continue to be available. More information is available on each Embassy’s website.
  • This does not affect the visa waiver program. See https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/faq?focusedTopic=Schengen%20Travel%20Proclamation for more information.
  • Although all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments are cancelled, the Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fee is valid and may be used for a visa appointment in the country where it was purchased within one year of the date of payment.
  • Applicants with an urgent matter and need to travel immediately should follow the guidance provided at the Embassy’s website to request an emergency appointment."

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.

Controls at Land Ports of Entry on Canadian and Mexican Borders

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.

Both 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 will remain in effect until 11:59 p.m. EDT on April 20, 2020. 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 20, 2020. This Notification may be amended or rescinded prior to that time, based on circumstances associated with the specific threat."

Canada-Mexico "Congregate Settings" Restrictions

An order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suspends "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.

Read the CDC Order published at 85 FR 17060 (March 26, 2020)

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 order is effective March 20, 2020 for 30 days, or until the Director of the CDC determines that "that the danger of further introduction of COVID-19 into the United States has ceased to be a serious danger to the public health, whichever is shorter." The CDC director can also extend or modify the order as needed 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. 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 of time 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.

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:

Coronavirus travel bans by Presidential Proclamation

The President has issued four COVID-19-related proclamations to limit travel to the United States:

  1. China Travel Proclamation. January 31, 2020 - Proclamation 9984 of January 31, 2020, published at 85 FR 6709, titled Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus. The proclamation cites INA 212(f) to suspend entry into the United States of all aliens (immigrants, nonimmigrants, and other non U.S. citizens) who were physically present within the People's Republic of China, excluding the Special Autonomous Regions of Hong Kong and Macau, during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States. This coronavirus travel ban is effective starting 5 p.m. on Sunday, February 2, 2020.
  2. Iran Travel Proclamation. February 29, 2020 - Proclamation 9992 of February 29, 2020, published at 85 FR 12855, titled Proclamation on the Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting Coronavirus. The proclamation cites INA 212(f) to suspend entry into the United States of all aliens (immigrants, nonimmigrants, and other non U.S. citizens) 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. This coronavirus travel ban is effective starting 5:00 p.m. eastern standard time on March 2, 2020. This proclamation does not apply to persons aboard a flight scheduled to arrive in the United States that departed prior to 5:00 p.m. eastern standard time on March 2, 2020.
  3. European Schengen Area Proclamation. March 11, 2020 - Proclamation 9993 of March 11, 2020, titled Proclamation - Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus. "The entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of all aliens who were physically present within the Schengen Area during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States is hereby suspended and limited subject to section 2 of this proclamation... This proclamation is effective at 11:59 p.m. eastern daylight time on March 13, 2020. This proclamation does not apply to persons aboard a flight scheduled to arrive in the United States that departed prior to 11:59 p.m. eastern daylight time on March 13, 2020." Although in his address President Trump reportedly said the ban would last 30 days, the proclamation language itself states that it “shall remain in effect until terminated by the President.”
    • Note: the European Schengen area includes: 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.
  4. Ireland and United Kingdom Proclamation. March 14, 2020 - Presidential Proclamation of March 14, 2020, titled Proclamation on the Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting Coronavirus. "The entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of all aliens who were physically present within the United Kingdom, excluding overseas territories outside of Europe, or the Republic of Ireland during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States is hereby suspended and limited ... This proclamation is effective at 11:59 p.m. eastern daylight time on March 16, 2020.  This proclamation does not apply to persons aboard a flight scheduled to arrive in the United States that departed prior to 11:59 p.m. eastern daylight time on March 16, 2020."

The proclamations do not apply to U.S. citizens, or to any alien who is:

  1. a lawful permanent resident of the United States
  2. a spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
  3. a 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;
  4. a sibling of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, provided that both are unmarried and under the age of 21;
  5. a 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;
  6. an alien traveling at the invitation of the United States Government for a purpose related to containment or mitigation of the virus;
  7. C (transit) or D (air or sea crewmember) nonimmigrants
  8. 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;
  9. an alien whose entry would not pose a significant risk of introducing, transmitting, or spreading the virus, as determined by the CDC Director, or his designee;
  10. an alien 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
  11. an alien whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their designees.

For aliens not excluded by the ban, the proclamations direct the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish standards and procedures at and between all United States ports of entry 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."

Designated U.S. airports

Proclamation 9984 of January 31, 2020 also 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 direct 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 four Presidential Proclamation coronavirus bans who have recently traveled from, or were otherwise present within, one of the countries designated in the Presidential Proclamations only land at one of the following airports.

  1. John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York
  2. Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD), Illinois
  3. San Francisco International Airport (SFO), California
  4. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), California
  5. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Washington
  6. Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), Hawaii
  7. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Georgia
  8. Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), Virginia
  9. Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), New Jersey
  10. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Texas
  11. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW), Michigan
  12. Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), Massachusetts
  13. Miami International Airport (MIA), Florida

According to the February 4, 2019 Federal Register notice, these are airports "where enhanced public health services and protocols are being implemented... This list of affected airports may be modified by the Secretary of Homeland Security in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Transportation. This list of affected airports may be modified by an updated publication in the Federal Register or by posting an advisory to follow at www.cbp.gov. The restrictions will remain in effect until superseded, modified, or revoked by publication in the Federal Register. For purposes of this Federal Register document, "United States" means the States of the United States, the District of Columbia, and territories and possessions of the United States (including Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, and Guam)."

The notices also clarify that a person is considered to have recently traveled from on of the designated countries if that person departed from, or was otherwise present within one of the designated countries, within 14 days of the date of the person's entry or attempted entry into the United States.

The CDC describes the airport and screening protocol as follows:

  • Your travel will be redirected to one of 11 U.S. airports where CDC has quarantine stations.
  • You will be asked about your health and travel.
  • Your health will be screened for fever, cough, or trouble breathing.

Depending on your health and travel history:

  • You will have some restrictions on your movement for a period of 14 days from the time you left China or Iran.

Read the Federal Register notices:

  • 85 FR 6044 (February 4, 2020). People's Republic of China notice. Flights departing after 5 p.m. EST on Sunday, February 2, 2020 and covered by the arrival restrictions regarding the People's Republic of China are required to land at one of the designated airports.
  • 85 FR 7214 (February 7, 2020). Added additional designated airports.
  • 85 FR 12731 (March 4, 2020). Iran notice. Flights departing after 5 pm EST on Monday, March 2, 2020, and covered by the arrival restrictions regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran are required to land at one of the designated airports.
  • 85 FR 15059 (March 17, 2020). Schengen countries notice. "Flights departing after 11:59 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Friday, March 13, 2020, and covered by the arrival restrictions regarding the countries of the Schengen Area are required to land at one of the airports identified in this document. These arrival restrictions will continue until cancelled or modified by the Secretary of DHS and notification is published in the Federal Register of such cancellation or modification." The notice also added two airports to the list of approved airports (Boston Logan International Airport and Miami International Airport), for a total of 13.
  • 85 FR 15714 (March 19, 2020). United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland notice. "Flights departing after 11:59 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) on Monday, March 16, 2020, and covered by the arrival restrictions regarding the United Kingdom, excluding overseas territories outside of Europe, or the Republic of Ireland are required to land at one of the airports identified in this document. These arrival restrictions will continue until cancelled or modified by the Secretary of DHS and notification is published in the Federal Register of such cancellation or modification."