State Department Expands NIE Criteria and Extends Approval Validity
On June 24, 2021, the Secretary of State expanded the eligibility criteria for National Interest Exceptions (NIEs) required for travelers from the 33 countries affected by the regional COVID travel bans (China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and India). NIEs may now be granted to “travelers providing vital support or executive direction for significant economic activity in the United States.” A provision for dependent family members has been made, for those situations where the principal has “been granted or would be reasonably expected to receive an 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.” Further, the State Department (DOS) may consider the grant of individual NIEs upon recommendation by consular posts for those individuals who do not qualify under the existing criteria.
This was followed by an announcement on July 6, 2021, that the DOS has extended the validity of NIEs. NIEs will now be valid for 12 months from the date of approval and for multiple entries, if they are used for the purpose under which they were granted, rather than a single entry within 30 days of approval as in the past. This extension also applies to NIEs granted in the last 12 months.
What This Means for Our Clients
The Department of State (DOS) announcements benefit business visitors and temporary workers seeking to travel from areas affected by the travel bans. However, visa issuance rates around the world have been modest. Although Proclamation 10052 (suspension of H1B and L1 visa issuance) expired on March 31, 2021, consular posts continue to operate at significantly reduced capacities, and NIE requirements have limited the number of applicants qualified to receive visas. The below table provides a snapshot of visa issuance rates at key posts over the past six months: