Latest Update on U.S. COVID-19 Travel Restrictions. Biden Shuffles the Criteria for Visa Issuance National Interest Exceptions

Good news for travelers from Europe’s Schengen area, the United Kingdom and Ireland.   On Tuesday, March 2, 2021, President Biden carved out an exception to COVID-19 travel restrictions for those whose work supports “critical infrastructure.”

The Department of State has defined “critical infrastructure sectors” as chemical, communications and information technology, dams, defense industrial base, emergency services, energy, financial services, food and agriculture, government facilities, health care and public health, nuclear reactors, transportation and water systems.

“Travelers in these categories, as well as academics, students and journalists for whom National Interest Exception (NIE) criteria has not changed, may qualify for NIEs to PP 10143 as related to the Schengen area, United Kingdom and Ireland,” the agency said. “No previously issued visas or NIEs will be revoked due to the new policy.”

Unfortunately, in the same proclamation, the Department of State announced that it was rescinding an earlier national interest determination that allowed technical experts, senior-level executives, treaty traders and investors (E-1 & E-2), professional athletes and their dependents to apply for authorization to come to the U.S from the European countries identified in the proclamation.

Students who already have valid F-1 or M-1 visas will not need to request an exception to travel.  Others applying for new visas, J-1 students and others included in Tuesday’s updated COVID-19 travel restrictions, should check with their nearest consulates for national interest determinations.

Most travelers continue to be barred from entering the U.S. within two weeks of setting foot in Brazil, South Africa, the 26 countries of the Schengen area, the U.K. or Ireland under President Joe Biden’s Jan. 25 “Proclamation on the Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Non-Immigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting Coronavirus Disease,” or PP 10143.

The Department of State continues to grant NIEs for qualified travelers seeking to enter the United States for purposes related to humanitarian travel, public health response and national security and for individuals in South Africa whose work impacts food supply chains may apply for exceptions to travel to the U.S. on H-2A or H-2B temporary work visas. The Department of State has not issued any national interest determinations concerning Brazil.

These latest revisions for temporary travelers should not be confused with the changes that have been made for individuals who are outside the U.S. pursuing lawful permanent resident status (“green cards”).  On Wednesday, February 24, 2021, President Joe Biden issued a proclamation revoking the Trump administration’s orders preventing foreign nationals from obtaining immigrant visas (“green cards”).

The Department of State is moving forward with phased resumption of visa services.  Applicants for immigrant visas who have not yet been interviewed will be contacted to resume processing of their applications.  The Department of State provided instructions on their website or immigrant for immigrant visa applicants who are in the application process.

Updates to U.S. COVID-19 Travel Restrictions and visa issuance can be found on the U.S. Department of State’s US Visa News web page.