US Travel Restrictions: U.S. DOS Issues New Guidance For Non-Immigrant Visas

Posted on March 17, 2021
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Travel restrictions to USA

The U.S. Department of State has issued new guidelines restricting the issuance of non-immigrant visas to international travelers to the U.S. This is applicable to travelers from the Schengen Area, UK, and Ireland. And it particularly impacts L-1 & E visa holders, as well as those traveling under the visa waiver program (ESTA). 

If eligible to travel and approved by the DOS in Washington D.C. the visa stamp will be valid for one entry into the U.S within 30 days of approval. Each subsequent trip will require a new justification or if qualified, a new NIE waiver approval.

Earlier, during restricted Covid travel, U.S. allowed for L-1 visa holders in the capacity of specialists, senior-level managers and executives to enter the country. Professional athletes and their dependents as well as E visa holders could also qualify to travel to the U.S. This has now been rescinded.

Who Can Travel Under The New U.S. Travel Restriction

Under the new stricter travel guidelines, only those travelers and/or visitors from the Schengen region, UK or Ireland who provide vital support for critical infrastructure in the U.S. will be given an exception to travel. This will cover individuals in the following sectors – 

  • Chemical;
  • Commercial Facilities;
  • Communications;
  • Critical Manufacturing;
  • Dams;
  • Defense Industrial Base;
  • Emergency Services;
  • Energy;
  • Financial Services;
  • Food and Agriculture;
  • Government Facilities;
  • Healthcare and Public Health;
  • Information Technology;
  • Nuclear Reactors, Materials, and Waste;
  • Transportation Systems; and
  • Water Systems.

Additionally, international visitors whose travel would directly support the creation or retention of U.S. jobs might qualify for a National Interest Exception waiver. 

Important: While many technicians and specialists directly involved in the installation and maintenance of specialized machinery could qualify for a visa or NIE, many executives, professional athletes and investors will not qualify under this new NIE guidance.

How To Apply For National Interest Exception Waiver When Traveling To The U.S.

Applicants who fall under the above sectors and provide support for critical infrastructure in the U.S. will have to apply for the visa or NIE waiver at the Department of State in Washington, D.C. In addition to copies of passport, any existing visa stamps, ESTA approvals, they will have to provide documentary evidence to consular officers regarding:

  • The reason to travel to the U.S.,
  • Need to be physically present in the U.S to execute the task,
  • Immediate timelines of the project or task that reflects that it cannot be postponed or conducted remotely,
  • Current location including city, state/region, country,
  • Date and reason to exit the U.S.,
  • How the task or individual traveling will directly support substantial job creation or retention in the U.S. 

Definition Of “Vital Sector” According To The DOS

According to the new travel guidelines announced by the Department of State, travelers from UK, Schengen and Ireland have to support a vital sector within the US to qualify for a visa.

They define ‘vital sector’ as the “installation, acquisition, maintenance, and essential safety training necessary to sustain the supply and production chains in the referenced sectors”.

Moreover, those who support the continuity of operations in a critical infrastructure-linked supply chains sector may also qualify for an NIE. 

Exceptions To The New Travel Restrictions

Under the new guidance, the following exceptions to travel bans continue to exist and will be granted by U.S. consular posts:

  • NIE waivers and visa stamps that have been previously approved will not be revoked due to this policy. Therefore, if you received an NIE waiver before March 2, 2021, you can travel to the U.S. during the 30-day period following such approval. 
  • U.S. citizens, green card holders, and their dependents;
  • Parents of minor U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents;
  • A or G visa holders traveling as diplomats;
  • C1/D visa holders as part of air and ship crew; 
  • F or M international visa students;
  • Journalist and J-1 Academic and Research Exchange visitors;
  • Exceptions for humanitarian cases; and
  • Exceptions for individuals traveling to treat COVID patients or conduct public health research.

As more travel opens up, the U.S. is taking a cautious approach in how many travelers will be allowed in. Path2USA keeps you abreast of the latest in all U.S. travel

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