The White House announced on September 20, 2021, that beginning in “early November” 2021, the Biden administration would remove restrictions on international travelers who are seeking to fly to the United States, provided that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This policy change will apply to all international travelers, including persons from countries currently covered by a regional travel ban. The policy change will provide substantial relief to international travelers seeking to enter the United States, including many business immigration visa applicants who are currently facing temporary suspensions for new visas and a patchwork of challenging national interest exceptions (NIE) at U.S. consulates worldwide.
Since January 2020, the United States has instituted a series of travel restrictions impacting travelers from 33 countries globally, including Brazil, China, India, Iran, the Schengen area countries in Europe, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. Foreign nationals who have been physically present in these countries within 14 days prior to their planned travel to the United States must be able to obtain an NIE based on specific criteria identified by the U.S. Department of State, or show they are otherwise exempt from these restrictions.
This latest move to lift COVID-19–related travel restrictions for fully vaccinated individuals traveling to the United States is a major advancement and should provide some welcome relief to persons who have been navigating the ever-changing landscape of the U.S. Department of State’s NIE requirements, as well as long waits at U.S. consulates. While the details of this new plan have yet to be released, fully vaccinated travelers should expect that they would likely be required to provide proof of full vaccination before boarding U.S.-bound flights, as well as negative results of COVID-19 tests taken within three days of travel. In addition, travelers will be expected to comply with enhanced contact-tracing measures and masking requirements. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will be releasing a list of accepted vaccines and a contact-tracing order for airlines to collect travelers’ contact information while in the United States. Notably, the newly announced policy shift is expected to apply only to air travel. The entry requirements for travelers entering from Canada and Mexico by land are not likely to change. With this modification in its COVID-19 response, the United States joins a growing number of countries that are relaxing quarantine measures for fully vaccinated travelers, including Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and several European Union countries.
Ogletree Deakins’ Immigration Practice Group will continue to monitor developments with respect to travel restrictions and other policy changes and will post updates on the Immigration blog and in the firm’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center as additional information becomes available. Important information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar and podcast programs.