The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the issuance of several regional travel bans that apply to foreign nationals who have been physically present in a particular country within 14 days of seeking to enter the United States. Individuals who have been physically present in counties such as the Schengen area, the UK and Ireland are thus not allowed to enter the United States unless they qualify for an exception to the ban.
As of March 2, 2021, the U.S. Department of State revised its policy regarding eligibility for a National Interest Exception for travelers from the Schengen area, the UK and Ireland. Unfortunately, this updated National Interest Exception policy is more restrictive than the previous standard. Prior to March 2, 2021 European travelers such as technical experts and specialists, senior-level managers and executives, treaty-traders and investors, professional athletes, and their dependents subject to the travel ban needed to show that their travel would contribute substantially to the U.S. economy in order to qualify for an exception. The new post-March 2, 2021 standard enables travelers to qualify for a National Interest Exception if their travel will provide “vital support for critical infrastructure.” (Presidential Proclamation 10143). This heightened standard will make it more challenging for travelers to secure a National Interest Exception from U.S. Consulates and Embassies.
Therefore, as of March 2, 2021 the National Interest Exception policy for the Schengen area, the UK and Ireland encompasses the following classes of travelers seeking admission into the United States:
- Travelers coming to the US to provide “vital support for critical infrastructure”
- F-1 and M-1 students
- J-1 students, journalists and academics
Individuals who fall into these categories may be considered for a National Interest Exception and admission into the United States. Until complete resumption of routine visa services, applicants who appear to be subject to entry restrictions related to COVID-19 will not be processed for a visa interview appointment unless the applicant also appears to be eligible for a National Interest Exception under the revised standard.