International Travel During Travel Ban: 13 Questions Answered For The Non-Immigrant Visa Holder

In the past 16 months, we have witnessed several travel bans and border entry bans. While some were related to the state of U.S. immigration, most others have been due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Restricting movement either through strict shelter-in-place mandates or limiting travel across borders was the safest way to prevent the spread of the Covid -19 virus.

The latest travel ban restricts the entry of certain categories of people who may have been in the following countries 14 days prior to entering the U.S. 

Schengen countries (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City)

  • India
  • China
  • UK
  • Iran 
  • Ireland
  • South Africa

US Travel FAQs: International Travel

For now, there are a lot of questions that pertain to how travelers holding non-immigrant visas like, H1-B, H4, F1, L, J etc. may or may not travel to the U.S., travel abroad and when they can return if they were in the U.S. previously.

The following answers will address the top 13 travel questions non-immigrant visa holders have today –

1 Who All Can Enter The United States During the Travel Ban?

  • Any non-citizen who is the spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
  • Those who are seeking to provide vital support or executive direction for critical infrastructure; Those traveling to provide vital support or executive direction for significant economic activity in the United States; 
  • Those in public health and/or supporting the alleviation of Covid-19;
  • Journalists; 
  • International students with valid F1visas and certain academics covered by exchange visitor programs; 
  • Dependent immigrants including those providing care for a U.S. citizen who can be a minor child, lawful permanent resident or other non-immigrant in lawful status close family member;
  • Fiancés on valid K1/K3 visas

2 Do I need a negative Covid test/vaccination to enter the United States?

Yes. For the foreseeable future, everyone entering the U.S. will need a negative Covid test before boarding a flight into the U.S. This applies to both U.S. citizens as well as non-citizens.

As for Covid vaccinations, although it hasn’t been mandated yet, but travel for fully vaccinated travelers will be a lot easier than those who are not.

3 Do I need a newly stamped visa in my passport to enter if I had an employment based visa before I left the U.S.?

Yes. very employment-based nonimmigrant visa holder must have a valid, unexpired visa in their passport that matches their USCIS approval notice in Forms I-797. Dependents must have a valid, unexpired visa and or a National Interest Exception approval to return to the United States.

4 As a H4 visa holder, can I join my spouse in the U.S.?

Yes. As long as the primary beneficiary, H1-B visa holder is currently present in the U.S., dependent visa holders including spouse and child may enter the country. They will need the necessary NIE approval to do so.

5 I am international student with a valid F1 visa –  Can I travel to the U.S.?

Yes. Starting July 2021, all U.S. consulates abroad are offering additional visa appointment slots for foreign students to apply for their F1 or J or M visas to join their U.S. universities after August 2021.

6 My original visa classification is different from my current one, but both are valid. Do I still need a new visa to enter the United States?

Yes. In order to enter the United States, you need the same visa classification listed on your new and most recent approval notice. Therefore, you will have to get your passport stamped again with the newest visa stamped in your passport before you return after traveling abroad. This is true for anytime, even during non-pandemic times.

7 How can I get a visa appointment at my local U.S. consulate sooner? I don’t see any available slots for the next several weeks.

The U.S. consulates are doing their best to accommodate additional visa appointments. However, with lesser staffing and limited hours of operation due to the pandemic, they are backlogged. Most U.S. consulates are only scheduling emergency appointments,

For countries with rising COVID cases like India, regular appointments will remain hard to get for the next few months.  At this time, visa appointments are available only for late 2021 and early- to mid-2022.

8 Do I have to buy travel medical insurance if I have I am traveling to the U.S.?

While you are not obligated to buy travel medical insurance, it is highly advisable that you do, especially given that it is a pandemic. Travel health insurance plans like Cover America Gold that insures visitors to the US not only covers Covid-19 like any other illness but also offers preferred discounted rates for returning customers.

Plans like Patriot America Plus, also covers new immigrants and US green card holders. This not only gives you the confidence to travel internationally but also gives you peace of mind knowing that should there be a medical emergency, you will be covered

9 As an H1-B visa holder, I cannot enter the U.S. due to the travel ban. Can I work from my home country?

You should talk to your employer regarding exceptions due to the pandemic. Here’s more information regarding working from home when on an H1-B visa.

10 Can my non-immigrant visa be renewed while I am still in the U.S.?

No. all non-immigrant visas like B1, B2, H1-B, F1, H4, etc. can only be renewed abroad. Therefore, if you leave the U.S. and don’t have a valid, unexpired visa when returning to the country, you will have to get it renewed, stamped at a U.S. consulate in your home country.

At this time, U.S. consulates are not allowing visa applications or renewals from non-locals. Therefore, it is important to get your visa stamped in your home country only.

11 Can I enter the U.S. on a valid B1/B2 visa?

No, not at this time. The visitor visa is still under the travel ban and non-citizens from the above restricted countries cannot enter the U.S. until the travel ban is lifted.

12 I have a valid H1-B visa, can I travel to Canada and Mexico?

Yes. As long as you are visiting either of those countries for 30 days or less and do not travel to another country in between departing from and returning to the United States, you can visit Canada or Mexico. Having said that, entry bans are constantly changing for most countries and it is advisable that you always confirm these details before confirming your itinerary.

13 How can I get an emergency visa appointment at a U.S. consulate?

The chances of getting a regular appointment are very low. At this time, U.S. consulates abroad are inundated with emergency appointment requests, most of which are denied.  Unless the emergency is related to a life-or-death situation, or you can prove that you qualify for a National Interest Exception, you can assume that you will not get one.  However, there is no harm in making the request.