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International Travel During the Upcoming Holiday Season with Travel Bans in Mind

November 19, 2020

Foreign nationals who find themselves in the United States during the holiday season who wish to return abroad for family visits during the time of COVID-19 must keep in mind the travel restrictions and bans to ensure their uninterrupted and smooth return to the United States.

The primary advice to such travelers is to remain within the United States, given the limited availability of visa appointments, additional travel restrictions due to COVID-19 and the possibility of unexpected flight cancellations which might maroon one abroad.

Travel Bans Currently in Effect

President Trump issued several travel bans to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. These bans remain in place, but do exempt U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents (green card holders), those with U.S. citizen or green card holder spouses or minor children and a host of others, which can be found here.

The travel bans remain in effect until terminated by the President. The bans further apply to foreign nationals who have been physically present in China (excluding Hong Kong and Macao), Iran, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Schengen area of Europe, which encompasses 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 and Switzerland. A person’s presence in these countries for even a brief period (including layovers) may prevent an individual from being permitted to board return flights to the United States.

June 24, 2020 Travel Ban Suspending Individuals Entering the United States on H and J Visa

President Trump’s Proclamation issued on June 24, 2020, barred H-1 and J visa holders from entering the United States if they were outside the country without valid visa stamps in their passports on the effective date of the Proclamation.

This Proclamation expires on December 31, 2020. Individuals with valid visas inside or outside the United States in these categories (from countries not enumerated on the travel ban list above) are not barred from returning to the United States. Canadians, who do not require visa stamps in any of these categories, are exempt from the nonimmigrant travel ban. Canada and the United States currently have in place a ban on travel for recreational purposes between the two countries, with essential travel permitted.

National Interest Exception Waiver

In August 2020, an additional Presidential Proclamation was issued which permitted individuals traveling from the United Kingdom, Ireland or a Schengen county to apply for a waiver to enter the United States for reasons related to humanitarian or other compelling reasons including public health factors or national security. Such requests would be submitted to a U.S. consular post or U.S. port of entry in advance of planned travel and assumed that the individual requesting the waiver was located outside the United States. Each post or embassy has its own individual criteria that one must follow in order to submit the request; they vary widely and can be found at the individual consulate’s or port of entry’s website.

Foreign Students

Foreign students applying for entry from the United States in F-1 or M-1 status are exempt from requesting the national interest exception and may apply for new visas at consular posts if necessary. Checking in advance whether the post is open and scheduling appointments would be wise prior to booking tickets. It Is also important to remember that historically many consular posts suspend visa processing during the end of year holiday period.

Should one not be granted a national interest exception, one could choose instead to quarantine for a 14-day period in a non-COVID-19 banned country. Such countries may include but are not limited to, Mexico, Serbia, Barbados and Turkey. While some may ask about returning to Canada and then entering the United States in a valid visa classification, one must keep in mind that Canada itself has its own strict quarantine requirements. Therefore, a stay in Canada might not be the solution to the 14-day third country stay requirement.

Entering the United States

All applicants for admission to the United States are still subject to questioning each time they enter the United States by air, vehicle or any other means of transportation. It is best to be certain that one has the appropriate documents in their possession including a valid passport, visa approval notices, national interest exception confirmation or any other information that might be requested to be presented to U.S. Customs and Border Protection upon entry to the United States.

One Final Reminder

After admission to the United States, it is important to download the Form-I94. The I-94 arrival/departure record represents information concerning how long the applicant for admission to the United States may stay in the country and permits work authorization, as appropriate, in conjunction with other immigration-related documents.

The I-94 form may be downloaded here. Should errors be found on the document, it is advisable to immediately contact the port where one was admitted to correct the defect and assure that government records accurately reflect the length of stay and classification of entry. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection website can be accessed to furnish contact information for each U.S. port of entry here.

Attorney Advertising. The information contained in this Legal Alert provides a general summary of the topics covered and is not intended to be and should not be relied upon as legal advice. You should consult with your legal counsel for advice and before making legal, business or other decisions.

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