Exceptions to the Travel Bans under the National Interest Exception (NIE)
I. TRAVEL BANS FOR CITIZENS OF THE UK, IRELAND, AND SCHENGEN AREA
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In March 2020, President Trump enacted Presidential Proclamation 9993 (Schengen Area) and 9996 (United Kingdom and Ireland), which prohibit travel to the United States for non-US citizens and Green Card holders, with certain exceptions. These proclamations suspended entry into the U.S. as immigrants and nonimmigrants for all individuals who were physically present within the Schengen Area / U.K. / Ireland during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the U.S. However, many business travelers and relatives find that they still need to travel to the United States. Fortunately, there are several exceptions available.
Certain business travelers, investors, treaty traders, academics, students, and journalists may qualify for national interest exceptions under Presidential Proclamations (PPs) 9993 (Schengen Area) and 9996 (United Kingdom and Ireland). Qualified travelers who are applying for or have valid visas or ESTA authorization may travel to the United States even as PPs 9993 and 9996 remain.
Students traveling from the Schengen Area, the UK, and Ireland with valid F-1 and M-1 visas do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual national interest exception to travel. 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.
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.
In July, the U.S. State Department released standards delineating categories in which such National Interest Exceptions may be granted. These categories include:
Public Health: Travel as a public health or healthcare professional or researcher 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 disease research).
Students: All students, and their dependents, traveling to the U.S. on an F or M visa to pursue a full course of study or on a J visa to participate in an exchange program as a bona fide student.
Academics: All exchange visitors and their dependents traveling to the U.S. on J visas in the following categories: Professors, Research Scholars, Short Term Scholars, or Specialists.
Investors: Travel in connection with investment or trade in the U.S. economy that generates a substantial economic impact, including investors and treaty-traders on E visas and the senior-level employees who provide strategic direction or expertise essential to the success of the investment, and their dependents.
Economic: Temporary travel that provides a substantial economic benefit to the U.S. economy, including:
Technical experts and specialists to install, service, maintain, or receive training for vessels, machinery and other specialized equipment used by U.S. and foreign firms with a substantial investment in the United States. Travel is temporary in nature and for a defined period of time.
Senior-level managers and executives, and their dependents, who provide strategic direction necessary for the success of the company or venture.
Professional athletes, dependents, and essential staff who enter the United States to participate in major sporting events, which bolster the U.S. economy.
Procedures for applying for National Interest Exceptions pursuant to P.P. 9993 and P.P. 9996 vary by U.S. consular post.
If a National Interest Exception is approved, the individual may travel to the U.S. on either a valid nonimmigrant visa stamp or ESTA authorization, noting, however, that the exception will remain valid for only 30 days from the date of approval and the visa stamp/authorization will be valid for only a single entry into the U.S.
II. TRAVEL BANS FOR EMPLOYMENT-BASED VISAS (H-1B, H-2B, L-1, AND J-1)
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On June 22, 2020, the President signed Presidential Proclamation 10052, suspending the entry into the U.S. of certain foreign nationals who are deemed to present a risk to the U.S. labor market during the economic recovery following the COVID-19 outbreak. This suspension applies to certain applicants for H-1B, H-2B, L-1, and J-1 nonimmigrant visas and remains in effect through December 31, 2020.
However, Presidential Proclamation 10052 includes exceptions, specifically including for individuals whose travel would be in the “national interest.”
The new U.S. State Department announcement provides specific guidance as to when an impacted nonimmigrant visa applicant may qualify for a National Interest Exception in the different visa categories. The following is a non-exclusive list of some of the National Interest Exceptions.
A. National Interest Exceptions for H-1B Nonimmigrants:
Travel as a public health or healthcare professional, or researcher to alleviate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, or to conduct ongoing medical research in an area with substantial public health benefit.
Travel by applicants seeking to resume ongoing employment in the U.S. in the same position with the same employer and visa classification
Travel by technical specialists, senior level managers, and other workers whose travel is necessary to facilitate the immediate and continued economic recovery of the U.S.