U.S. Travel Ban – Can International Students Enter The U.S. For The New 2021 Academic Year?

The Biden administration announced travel restrictions against several countries including India, China and the Schengen countries with an intent to curb the spread of Covid-19 virus. While China and India supply the largest number of international students to universities in the U.S., the pandemic caused 18% fewer student visas being issued for the academic year 2020-21. Over 64% fewer visas were issued to just Indian student applicants last year.

What happens this year? Can international students enter the U.S.? Do they get an exemption from the travel ban? How do they get a visa if the consulates abroad are still closed? We answer these questions below and elaborate on how international students can navigate the short time between the travel ban announced on May 4, 2021 and the classes beginning in August/September 2021.

Who Is Impacted By The Latest Travel Ban?

President Biden through his proclamations, has suspended or restricted entry into the United States for certain individuals who were physically present during the 14-day period prior to their entry/attempted entry from the following countries – 

  • China 
  • Iran
  • India
  • The Schengen Countries
  • The UK
  • Ireland
  • Brazil & South Africa

U.S. Travel Ban – Can International Students Enter The U.S. For The New 2021 Academic Year?

This includes non-U.S. citizens and non-immigrant visa holders with valid visas in hand.

Who Is Exempted From U.S. Visa Travel Restrictions?

According to the proclamation signed by Biden, the following individuals will be allowed to travel:

  • Citizens of the United States as well as non-citizen nationals and any lawful permanent resident of the country.
  • Foreign students with F, J or M visas whose classes begin on or after August 1, 2021.
  • Spouses, or fiancé(e)s of citizens.
  • H4 dependent visa holders, if their H1-B spouse is already present in the U.S.
  • Journalists.
  • Pilots and aircrew traveling to the United States for training or aircraft pickup, delivery, or maintenance.
  • Travelers who are seeking to provide vital support for critical infrastructure sectors.
  • Anyone who is critical in mitigating the Covid-19 pandemic symptoms and supporting its treatment, research and/or eradication.

Can Foreign Students Enter the U.S.?

The short answer is Yes, foreign students can enter. But this has a caveat.

While the travel ban is for all non-immigrant visa holders, international students with U.S. student visa are exempted. According to the U.S. Embassy in India, “Under the current Presidential Proclamation, student visa holders are able to enter the United States if their classes start on or after 1 August 2021. We are unfortunately unable to approve exceptions for F visa holders with a program start date before 1 August 2021.”  Students can enter the country only 30 days before classes begin — not earlier.


Foreign students who have an admit to a U.S. university for the next academic year 2021-22 may be considered for a National Interest Exception (NIE). The students who already have an I-20 from their universities will not have to specially apply for an NIE and will be automatically allowed to apply for a U.S. student visa. This covers F1, J and M visas. 

What Is A National Interest Exception (NIE)? And Do International Students Qualify?

How Can International Students Get An F1 Student Visa?

If you are planning to come to the U.S. to pursue education this fall but haven’t applied for a visa yet, you should act soon. U.S. consulates and embassies in most countries including India are closed due to the pandemic. However, they are offering emergency services, which means most non-immigrant visa applications are not prioritized.

U.S. is resuming visa interviews for foreign students starting June 14, 2021. Students will be considered for the National Interest Exception (NIE) and granted student visas if their classes begin after August 1, 2021.

International Students: How To apply For National Interest Exception (NIE)

The latest update to the travel ban Proclamation says, “students with valid M1 and F1 visa intending to begin or continue an academic program commencing 1 August 2021 or later do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual National Interest Exception to travel. They may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the start of their academic studies’. 

This includes students and certain academics participating in optional practical training (OPT), which begins August 1, 2021 or later.

Should you feel that you qualify for the NIE in order to travel to the United States, you should contact a U.S. Embassy closest to you and apply for a NIE. IDs like [email protected] or similar are provided for different consular posts. 

The following details can be submitted to apply for an NIW – 

  • Last name
  • First name
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Country of citizenship
  • Passport number
  • Name & location of college/U.S. university of admit
  • Planned travel dates, preferably with itinerary and copy of flight tickets 
  • Purpose of travel – describe details of coursework, dates of admission and person of contact at the institution, preferably the DSO. 
  • Contact information, both in the US as well as in home country including phone numbers, emails, etc. 

Congratulations to those who got selected to pursue an education in the United States & Good Luck!