The country-specific COVID-19 entry bar proclamations allow exceptions to be made for "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."

A May 22, 2020 order issued by Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf establishes a "national interest exemption" under the country-specific COVID-19 Proclamations 9984 (China), 9992 (Iran), 9993 (Schengen Area), and 9996 (UK and Ireland), for "certain foreign professional athletes who compete in professional sporting events organized by certain leagues, including their essential staff and their dependents." The order will not benefit individuals covered by the Brazil COVID-19 Proclamation 10041.

The order says that Secretary Wolf "will work with the professional sporting groups, including MLB, the NBA, the PGA Tour, the NHL, the ATP and the WTA,* to identify the specific athletes, essential staff, team and league leadership, spouses, and dependents covered by this exemption."

* Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the Women’s National Basketball Association, the Professional Golfers’ Association Tour, the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour, the National Hockey League, the Association of Tennis Professionals, and the Women's Tennis Association.

Secretary Wolf justifies his order on the basis of "the benefit live sporting events provide to the national economy," and the "intangible benefits to the national interest, including civic pride and national unity."