As of 12:01 a.m. ET on November 8, 2021, the United States’ country-specific 14-day COVID-19 travel restrictions that have been so troublesome and disruptive for individuals and businesses will be eliminated. Instead, protecting the country from COVID-19 will focus on vaccination status.

President Joe Biden’s “A Proclamation on Advancing the Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic” provides that, on November 8, 2021, the entry by air of nonimmigrants (not U.S. citizens, immigrants, or green card holders) who are not fully vaccinated will be suspended, with certain exceptions and requirements. The Proclamation will not apply to passengers already on airplanes at 12:01 a.m. ET on November 8 and clearly states that the new restrictions will not affect the issuance of visas. One exception is for individuals whose entry is in the “national interest” – National Interest Exceptions (NIEs), it seems, will still be on the list of those who are not fully vaccinated (although they must get vaccinated within 60 days of entry into the country, unless they qualify for an exemption).

The list of nonimmigrants excepted from the fully vaccinated requirement includes:

  • Crew members of airlines (or sea crew members) whose operators adhere to all CDC guidelines;
  • Individuals in certain diplomatic-type visa status;
  • Individuals whose age makes vaccination inappropriate;
  • Individuals involved in certain clinical trials;
  • Individuals for whom vaccination is medically contraindicated;
  • Individuals who have received emergency or humanitarian exceptions from the CDC;
  • Individuals (except for those seeking to enter in B status) seeking to enter from countries where COVID-19 vaccination is limited — including countries with less than 10% of their total population fully vaccinated or as otherwise determined by the CDC;
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces, their spouses, and children; and
  • Any noncitizen or group of noncitizens whose entry would be in the national interest as determined by the Secretaries of State, Transportation, Homeland Security, or their designees.

Where an individual qualifies for entry based on at least one exemption, they must still:

  • Provide proof of a pre-departure negative COVID-19 test;
  • Wear a face mask throughout their travel;
  • Arrange for post-arrival COVID-19 testing prior to arrival;
  • Provide proof of arrangements for self-quarantine or self-isolation upon arrival; and
  • Agree to become vaccinated within 60 days of arrival if medically appropriate, unless the stay is determined to be sufficiently brief, the individual is participating in certain clinical trials, the individual has already received a COVID-19 vaccine that is authorized in their country, or the CDC determines vaccination is not warranted.

The Proclamation directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services, through the Director of the CDC, to implement the Proclamation and define all the requirements, including, but not limited to, what constitutes “fully vaccinated,” how individuals must prove compliance with all applicable CDC recommendations, and what countries will be on the list of places where vaccination is limited.

Please contact a Jackson Lewis attorney if you have any questions.

The Administration has imposed new restrictions beginning November 29, 2021 at 12:01 a.m. ET on individuals travelling to the United States from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawai, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe (the “South African restrictions”) in response to the appearance of the COVID-19 Omicron variant. These restrictions go into effect just three weeks after the lifting of other geographic travel restrictions. Those on board a flight to the United States that departed prior to 12:01 a.m. ET will not be affected.

Like the prior geographic limitations, the South African restrictions apply to anyone who has been in one of the restricted countries anytime during the 14 days prior to travel. U.S citizens and permanent residents are not subject to this ban. Others who are exempted include: family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, crew members, diplomats, members of the U.S. armed forces, and those whose entry is in the national interest. National Interest Exceptions (NIEs) are expected to be in effect.

The U.S. Embassy in South Africa has announced that consulates in South Africa will continue to accept and process nonimmigrant visa applications while the restrictions are in place. This is a marked change from NIE processing previously, where consulates refused to accept nonimmigrant applications without an approved NIE waiver.

These new restrictions have been described as precautionary. The CDC will be introducing other measures. Those who are exempted from the ban must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to travel. The “fully vaccinated” rules (and its exemptions) also will apply.

The restrictions will remain in effect until terminated by the President.

Jackson Lewis attorneys will provide updates as they become available.

The State Department, in coordination with the CDC, raised its Travel Advisory for the United Kingdom to “Do Not Travel” because of COVID-19 (Level IV).

Coincidentally, the Department’s move came on the same day Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted most COVID-19-related restrictions in the United Kingdom (yet, excluding Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland). He made this move as the case numbers are rising because most adults in the United Kingdom are fully vaccinated.

Despite the United Kingdom lifting its restrictions, the European Union has opened its borders to individuals from the United States (with various restrictions). Further, Canada is about to open its borders to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Moreover, the White House reported that the United States will not be lifting travel restrictions due to the spread of the Delta variant. Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that it is not clear how long the restrictions will last. As of July 23, 2021, the CDC announced that the seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in the United States was up over 46 percent from the prior week.

Therefore, despite lobbying efforts aimed at increasing summer tourism from Europe, the Presidential Proclamations restricting travel to the United States due to COVID-19 are likely to remain in effect throughout the tourist season and beyond. The travel restrictions were imposed more than a year ago, in January 2020, when President Donald Trump instituted the ban on travel from China. Further bans were instituted in 2020 and 2021 on individuals travelling from Iran, the United Kingdom, Ireland, the 26-member countries of the Schengen Zone, Brazil, South Africa, and, more recently, India. To overcome these restrictions those who need to travel to the United States but are subject to the bans must either “camp-out” in a non-banned country (if they can enter such a country) for 14 days before attempting to enter the United States or they must apply for and receive a National Interest Exception (NIE) to the relevant ban. Eligibility for NIEs is set forth in a web of complex and changing guidance from the Department of State and Customs and Border Protection.

Employers all over the country are suffering due to the bans. Their key employees cannot travel back and forth from or to the United States for important business purposes. The highly skilled or temporary, seasonal workers they need to boost their businesses and the economy cannot be hired. This is compounded by the fact that most U.S. consulates abroad are extremely back-logged and understaffed due to COVID-19.

If you have questions about the travel bans, Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to assist you in developing travel strategies and applying for NIEs.

 

Travel restrictions related to COVID-19 have been in place for more than a year. Certain restrictions have been removed, but the ones on travel from Brazil, China, India, Iran, Ireland, the Schengen Zone, South Africa, and the United Kingdom remain in effect. The White House wants to remove more restrictions and has announced it is putting together working groups with Canada, Mexico, the European Union, and the United Kingdom to “chart a path forward, with a goal or reopening international travel with . . . key partners.”

The groups will include experts from the White House COVID-19 Response Team, the National Security Council, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They will focus on real-time data. But a White House official noted, lifting restrictions will not be happening “today.”

The travel industry, and airlines in particular, has been hoping the United States will act quickly to remove the current COVID-19-based restrictions on travel, so their businesses and the economy in general can benefit from the summer season. Airline officials from the United States and the United Kingdom have been urging the lifting of trans-Atlantic restrictions. But they “do not expect Washington to lift restrictions until around July 4 at the earliest as the administration aims to get more Americans vaccinated.”

At the G-7 meeting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Joe Biden spoke about travel restrictions on their shared border. The land border is open only to “essential” travel. The essential travel ban has been in effect since March 2020 and keeps being renewed a month at a time. Currently, it is set to expire on June 21, 2021. There was “speculation that the border could reopen as early as June 22.” That does not seem to be in the cards. Trudeau has not wanted to lift restrictions until 75% of all Canadians have had at least one shot of a vaccine – a mark they might meet in July. For now, Canada is working on a phased approach, where the country might first exempt travelers who are fully vaccinated from quarantine rules.

We will provide updates on the possible loosening of travel restrictions as they become available. In the meantime, if you have questions about any of the travel restrictions and need advice about developing strategies for overcoming them, Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to assist you.

 

Some of the inbound international travel restrictions that have bedeviled U.S. employers reportedly are expected to be lifted by mid-May.

This will include restrictions on travel from the UK, Europe, and Brazil, as well as the travel restrictions at the Northern and Southern borders, which were recently continued until April 21, 2021. An anonymous senior administration official said there would be a “sea-change in mid-May when vaccines are more widely available to everyone.”

The administration reviews the travel restrictions weekly. There appear to be two schools of thought: 1) those who are concerned about lifting travel restrictions due to the spread of COVID-19 variants and 2) those who believe that the COVID-19 testing requirements for boarding international flights are sufficient.

The plethora of world-wide travel restrictions has led to confusion and hardships to businesses and individuals, and there is no direct evidence that the travel bans are needed now that COVID-19 testing is widely available.

Industry groups, including the airlines, have been urging the administration to loosen restrictions and rely on “core public health protections, such as the universal mask mandate, inbound international testing requirements, physical distancing or other measure that have made travel safer and reduced transmission of the virus.”

Jackson Lewis attorneys will be monitoring this situation and provide updates as soon as they become available.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is making it a little easier for some foreign nationals to fly to the United States by lifting certain restrictions in place following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the restrictions, any airplanes carrying passengers who had recently travelled to or had been present in China, Iran, the 26 countries in the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Brazil but were exempt or received waivers to enter the U.S. were required to land at a limited number of U.S. airports. At those designated airports, there were public health resources for conducting enhanced entry screening. The 15 international airports were in:

  1. Atlanta
  2. Boston
  3. Chicago
  4. Dallas-Fort Worth
  5. Detroit
  6. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood
  7. Honolulu
  8. Houston
  9. Los Angeles
  10. Miami
  11. New York City
  12. Newark
  13. San Francisco
  14. Seattle-Tacoma
  15. Washington-Dulles

Now, those restrictions have been lifted. This change should make it easier for covered travelers, as they will have more flights, more airlines, and more U.S. arrival destinations to choose from for international travel.

According to its announcement, DHS hopes to stimulate air travel while using its health resources more effectively. Due to COVID-19, TSA hit a low point in daily travelers in mid-April – 87,534. On September 20, 2020, TSA reported 847,968 – a 10-fold increase. But, about three times as many passengers were screened on the same date in 2019 – 2,517,826.

Despite the changes, DHS will continue using an illness reporting system and passenger education for all arriving passengers, along with other TSA health measures. So that passengers and TSA employees “Stay Healthy and Stay Secure” during the screening process, the Agency has instituted, among other things:

  • Social distancing
  • A mask requirement
  • Plastic shielding
  • Increased cleaning
  • To make screening more “contactless”:
    • Each traveler holds their own IDs and boarding passes and places them on the reader, rather than handing the documents to the screener
    • Screeners will use new gloves for each pat down and new explosive trace swabs for each passenger
    • Belts and other items, including change and paper currency, that must be removed from pockets will be placed in the traveler’s own carry-ons, not in bins
  • Each traveler will be allowed to have up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer in their carry-ons
  • To accommodate identification problems caused by COVID-19 closings:
    • Driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs that expired on or after March 1, 2020, and could not be renewed can be used as identification for up to one year after expiration
    • REAL ID enforcement deadline originally scheduled for October 1, 2020, has been changed and pushed out until October 1, 2021

Even though international travel is down, TSA still recommends arriving early for flights because COVID-19 has affected staffing throughout the airport environment.

If you have questions about international travel and visa restrictions, Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to assist you.

 

In response to the COVID-19 Omicron variant, the Administration is expanding COVID-19 mitigation and tightening international travel requirements.

All individuals (including U.S. citizens) entering the United States from abroad will have to be fully vaccinated and present a negative COVID-19 test taken within one day of their departure. Previously, individuals were required to be fully vaccinated and supply a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of departure. The updated testing requirement applies to all individuals two years of age and older. Meeting the one-day testing requirement may be challenging in some countries. In addition, mask requirements on all public transportation will be continued until mid-March 2022, instead of mid-January 2022.

On November 8, 2021, the geographic travel restrictions that prevented individuals who had been in over 30 countries within 14 days of their trip to the United States were lifted in exchange for vaccination and testing requirements. On November 29, 2021, 14-day travel restrictions were again implemented, but this time for travelers coming from eight countries in southern Africa. The new vaccination and testing requirements will be applied to all travelers – even those who are exempt or receive National Interest Waivers (NIEs) from the southern African restriction.

NIEs previously granted under other proclamations are no longer valid.

It is important to check out testing options in your country of travel to ensure that you can get the correct test result within the one-day window.

Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to assist you with compliance issues.

The United States will open its northern and southern land borders to fully vaccinated foreign nationals sometime in November 2021. When this happens, it will be the first time since March 2020 that these individuals will be able to enter the United States from Canada and Mexico for “non-essential” purposes, such as tourism, shopping, and family gatherings.

The reopening is expected to occur in two phases. During the first phase, fully vaccinated foreign nationals will be able to enter for non-essential purposes. Unvaccinated individuals will still be able to enter for essential purposes, including for work. During the second phase, scheduled to go into effect in early January 2022, all foreign nationals, whether entering for essential purposes or not, will have to be fully vaccinated. The expectation is that there will be limited exceptions, for example for children.

The “essential travel” restrictions applied only to land and sea borders. Foreign nationals have been able to fly into the United States from Canada or Mexico if they met the COVID-19 testing requirements. In November, however, new COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirements will be in place for all air travel. All foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States from anywhere, with limited exceptions, will have to be fully vaccinated, as well as show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of departure. Unvaccinated U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents will need to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 24 hours of boarding a flight to the United States and undergo testing upon arrival.

The United States is a little late to the border game. Canada reopened its border to fully vaccinated Americans on August 9, 2021, and to other fully vaccinated foreign nationals on September 7, 2021. It is still not clear exactly when the new U.S. rules will become effective. The United States already announced that the 14-day travel restrictions on China, Iran, the UK and Ireland, the 26 Schengen Zone countries, Brazil, South Africa, and India are scheduled to be lifted sometime in “early” November. The northern and southern border restrictions will be lifted at the same time. We are still awaiting official guidance on documentation requirements and the implementation date.

Jackson Lewis attorneys will provide updates as they become available.

While not all the details are available, the Biden Administration is releasing more information about the lifting of the 14-day travel restrictions.

Here is what is known so far:

  • The 14-day travel restrictions on China, Iran, the UK and Ireland, the 26 Schengen Zone countries, Brazil, South Africa and India are scheduled to be lifted sometime in “early” November. No specific date has been provided.
  • On that same date, the new rule requiring all foreign national adults to be fully vaccinated before boarding flights to the United States, in addition to showing proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure, will become effective.
  • Individuals must be “fully vaccinated” with a COVID-19 vaccine approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, the specific vaccines that will be accepted and the criteria for proof of vaccination have yet to be released. This may mean that the approved vaccines could go beyond those that are currently authorized for use in the United States.
  • Unvaccinated U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents will face tougher requirements. They will need to provide a negative COVID-19 test taken within 24 hours of boarding a flight to the United States and will undergo testing upon arrival.
  • Airlines will be required to collect information on travelers that can be used for contact tracing.

Details not yet available include:

  • How children will be treated under the new regimen.
  • The specifics regarding the types of testing that will be required and accepted (e.g., rapid tests, PCR tests, and so on)
  • How the “upon arrival testing” of unvaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents will be conducted.
  • Some limited exemptions to the requirements (perhaps for children and for some humanitarian concerns) are expected, but those have not been detailed. In addition, anyone who receives an exception may have to agree to “vaccination on arrival.”
  • Whether some form of the current national interest exception program will remain in effect for travelers who do not meet the proposed vaccination requirements.

While companies have surely been stymied by the 14-day travel restrictions, it is not yet clear how the switch from the 14-day restrictions for 33 countries to vaccination requirements for all foreign nationals will affect businesses and the economy overall. While employers who have been dealing with the 14-day travel restrictions have something to look forward to, employers with employees they wish to transfer from abroad or who have business dealings in countries with low vaccination rates or limited access to WHO-approved vaccines need to be thinking ahead to November.

Jackson Lewis attorneys will continue to provide updates on these important travel requirements as they become available. If you have any questions about strategies to deal with the proposed changes, please contact us.

The restrictions on the issuance of H-1B, L-1, and J-1 nonimmigrant “guest-worker” visas, which have been in place since June 24, 2020, expired without fanfare on March 31, 2021. As a result, U.S. consulates around the world will resume issuing H-1B, L-1, and J-1 visas without the need for an additional national interest exception application.

Now that the restriction has expired, H, L, and J visa applicants who have or had not been scheduled for interviews will be scheduled in accordance with each consulate’s existing phased resumption of services. Those who were refused visas based on the expired restrictions may reapply by submitting a new application and a new fee.

The expiration was not completely unexpected, given that a limited injunction had been issued in the fall of 2020 on the basis that the restrictions exceeded presidential authority. Additionally, many businesses, particularly those in the technology industry, have long-argued that the restrictions did not protect U.S. workers, but, instead, harmed the U.S. economy.

While the lifting of this particular restriction is helpful, the 14-day United Kingdom, Ireland, Schengen area, Brazil, South Africa, Iran, and China travel bans remain in place. Most of those travel bans, which are an effort to control the spread of COVID-19, were tightened in early March 2021. At that time, the Biden administration removed a number of categorial exceptions to the bans and left only exceptions for those who seek to enter the United States for humanitarian purposes, public health response, national security, or “vital support” for critical infrastructure sectors.

This is the fourth Trump administration travel ban that the Biden administration has removed. On January 20, 2021, the “Muslim” and “Africa” bans were terminated. In February, President Joe Biden also withdrew a Presidential Proclamation that prevented individuals from obtaining immigrant visas and entering the country as legal permanent residents, as it prevented the unification of family members and made it more difficult for industries to hire talent from abroad. At that time, many immigration advocates hoped the nonimmigrant visa restrictions would also be removed. Now, that has come to pass.

Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to assist you in determining how to continue to cope with the 14-day bans, COVID-19 test requirements for travel into the United States, and the reciprocal land port of entry travel bans at the Northern and Southern borders with Canada and Mexico.