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State Department Tightens Regulations For Travelers From Europe

March 16, 2021

On March 2, 2021, the U.S. Department of State announced further tightening of its COVID-19 restrictions for foreign nationals present in the Schengen areas of Europe, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. Anthony Blinken, the Secretary of State rescinded prior guidance by the State Department granting “national interest exceptions” to the travel restrictions for senior level managers and executives, technical experts, professional athletes, and E visa treaty traders and investors. The new guidance limits the issuance of national interest exception to those foreign nationals who will offer “vital support to critical infrastructure sectors.” The interpretation of the new directive has varied at each consulate. Therefore, it is important to double check each consulate’s website to assure that its interpretation is consistent with the purpose of travel for those requesting visas for U.S. entry.

Vital support of critical infrastructure sectors as defined by the Department of Homeland Security or critical infrastructure supply chain include the following:

  • 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
  • Transportation
  • Water/wastewater systems

For further information regarding the definition of critical infrastructure, see here.  

It is important to note that senior executives and managers intending to enter the U.S. for the purpose of observing operations, holding regular meetings with U.S. clients, and for routine operational travel will no longer be considered eligible for a National Interest Exception.

National Interest Exception Qualifications
Nonimmigrant visa holders with valid visas are also required to verify that they qualify for a national interest exception (NIE) before they are permitted to travel to the U.S.

A request for a national interest waiver should be emailed to the U.S. consulate where the visa was granted.  

F-1 and M1 (academic and vocational students) visa holders need not apply for renewals of national interest exceptions for each planned trip.

Most consulates do request that the following documents be attached to the NIE request:

  • Photo/scan of the passport ID page
  • Photo/scan of most recent U.S. visa stamp
  • DS-2019 (J-1 visa holders)
  • Supporting documents, in English, which might include a statement outlining qualifications of the traveler, purpose of travel, critical infrastructure field under which request is made, and reason for reentry to the U.S.

U.S. embassies and consulates have further advised that there may be additional wait times for the processing of such requests, and many consulates have now imposed the requirement that the request be submitted while the applicant is outside the U.S. and not located in the country prior to departure for Europe. An additional consideration is travel to a third country for fourteen days, which would obviate the need to secure a national interest exception.

Please take note that no changes have yet been imposed for Brazil and China and we are keeping a close watch for the same.  

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