State Department Revises National Interest Exceptions for COVID Regional Travel Bans
On March 2, 2021, the Secretary of State revised the National Interest Exceptions (“NIEs”) applying to the regional COVID bans for travelers from the Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland. Previously, NIEs were available for such travelers if they qualified as technical experts and specialists, senior-level managers and executives, treaty-traders and investors, professional athletes, and/or their dependents, whose travel would assist with “economic recovery” from COVID-19. The Secretary of State has made a new determination that NIEs are now only available for business travelers and temporary workers seeking to provide “vital support for critical infrastructure.” The NIE exception is still also available to J-1 students, academics, journalists and individuals traveling for humanitarian, public health and national security purposes.
What This Means for Our Clients
The Department of State (DOS) announcement primarily affects business visitors and temporary workers seeking to travel from areas affected by the travel bans. While H-1B and L-1 nonimmigrants have been eligible to apply for NIEs in the past, particularly if they were renewing previously issued visas to continue employment, that may no longer be possible unless the individual is employed in a capacity that the consular officer believes provides “vital support for critical infrastructure.”
Note that this change in policy only impacts the COVID-19 related travel bans applying to persons traveling from the countries listed above. It does not impact persons subject to Proclamation 10052 suspension, which applies to persons from all countries, who are applying for new H-1B, L-1 and certain J-1 categories. This Proclamation is set to end on March 31, 2021. The National Interest Exception criteria for the Proclamation remains unchanged.