To get the Covid-19 pandemic in control, the U.S. has issued a couple of travel restrictions on its citizens. International travel is being highly monitored, and some changes are being ordered every other day. As the cases are still increasing with each passing day in the U.S., travel restrictions are getting strict, especially for international travel. These travel restrictions were introduced by Donald Trump last year. On his last day as a President in Jan 2021, Trump lifted all restrictions. However, Biden still plans on extending these restrictions on international travel as the pandemic is not yet in control.
What are these restrictions?
The U.S. introduced restrictions on travellers from European Countries in March 2020. The travellers from Brazil were banned in May 2020. All the non- U.S. citizens who have been to Brazil, Ireland, UK, Ireland, and the twenty-six countries in the Schengen Area in Europe where travel across open borders is allowed. These countries include Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, France, Greece, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, France, Hungary, Italy, Iceland, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Malta, Portugal, Poland, Luxembourg, Slovenia, and Slovakia.
However, there are certain exempts from this travel ban. Apart from U.S. citizens, anyone from the following categories who resides in these banned countries can come back to the U.S.:
- Siblings of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. This is only applicable if both of them are below 21 years of age.
- Spouses of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
- The legal guardian or parent of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. This is only applicable if the latter is below 21 years of age.
However, proper documentation should be carried to prove to the U.S. government that one falls under these categories.
Joe Biden has made the ‘mask order’ a mandatory rule for traveling. It will be applied to airports, ships, intercity buses, trains, or any other public transportation mode. The countries that do not fall under the travel ban list will have to follow a set of rules. Travelers have to get a negative covid test before arriving in the U.S. They would also need to quarantine on arriving. There is also an alternative that can be followed by the traveler. The international traveler can produce documentation that indicates their recovery from covid-19. It should include a positive test result along with a letter from a public health officer or a healthcare provider, which will clear them for traveling to the U.S. All of this documentation should be provided before one board the flight.
These procedures are to be followed by both non-residents and legal permanent residents and U.S. citizens. These documentations are to be produced if the passenger’s age is two years or above.
The travel restrictions can be updated at the last moment as the situation is worsening in the U.S.
Alternatives for travelers residing in countries under the travel ban
There are very few alternatives for people who wish to travel to the U.S. from one of the ‘banned’ countries.
The first thing that a traveler from any of these countries can do is to issue a National Interest Exception or NIE waiver? They will have to issue it from the U.S. consulate or the U.S. embassy in your home country. But the waiver is not easy to get, and planning a trip due to wishful thinking is not advisable. The waiver can be secured due to public health, security, or humanitarian level by the U.S. However, it might take a long time to get a waiver. However, students traveling from any of these countries can travel to the U.S. and not wait for a waiver. This is only possible if they have valid M-1 or F-1 visas.
The second option through which one can fly to the U.S. from any of these banned countries is 14 days quarantine. They would have to quarantine for 14 days in any countries that do not fall under the U.S. travel ban. This is in case one fails to secure a waiver, or their request gets denied. Although this process is entirely legal, it might be a costly option. They would have to book a flight to another country and spend money there before returning to the U.S.
Travel ban for H, L, and J visa holders
On 22nd June 2020, Trump announced a proclamation that banned the entry of non-immigrants into the U.S. This is applicable for non-immigrants who fall under specific visa categories. In case they were not in the U.S. and didn’t have proper stamps on the date when the proclamation was announced ( 22nd June 2020), they were not allowed to enter the U.S. before 31st December 2020. The date got extended and now is changed to 31st March 2021.
These laws are applicable for people and their dependent family, who hold H-1B and H-2B visas. It is applicable for L-1 workers as well as their family member who is dependent on them. It allows restricts the entry of individuals and their families who are on J- visas. J- visas are given to individuals who are usually a part of an exchange program.
Individuals who have proper visa stamps and previously issues visas and Canadians do not have to follow these rules. Most of the appointments for a visa has been canceled. Even if anyone from the category mentioned above landed an appointment, they would not be able to travel to the U.S. before 31st March 2021. This date can be subjected to change as it has happened before.
Alternatives for people with H, L, and J visas holders
There are minimal chances of new visas getting issued for people falling under these categories. However, they can courier documents to the U.S. embassy. They can apply for an NIE waiver in case they cannot secure a visa. If you are present in the U.S. before the date of the proclamation, you are legally allowed to stay there.
Entering the U.S. has become more challenging than it was. During the Trump administration, life was difficult for immigrants. But after the covid-19 pandemic, the situation has worsened. Visas are not being issued readily as U.S. consulates are working at a reduced capacity to maintain social distancing norms. Now, all you can do is wait and watch how Joe Biden handles the situation. Try to keep an eye out on their official website to stay updated.