You may soon start to see a lot more activity and crowds at the international terminals of airports across the country. That’s because on November 8, the United States lifted its COVID-19 travel ban. It means that fully vaccinated foreign nationals, with few exceptions, will now be allowed into the U.S., including those from countries that had been specifically targeted — 26 European countries as well as China, Iran, Brazil, and South Africa. Families can now be reunited for the holiday season; business travel can resume. There is much to celebrate. But there are conditions, too.
To Whom Does The Policy Apply?
The new policy announced on October 25 applies to fully vaccinated travelers, regardless of country of origin and immigration status. Everyone traveling internationally is subject to the new policy, including U.S. citizens and green card holders.
What Is The Boarding Protocol?
You must provide proof that you’re fully vaccinated prior to boarding an airplane bound for the United States. That proof must include your name, date of birth, and the name and date of the vaccine you were administered. The proof may be on paper or in digital form. I suggest all my clients have both forms at the time of travel. You must also have a negative COVID-19 test within three days of travel.
What Vaccines Will The United States Accept?
The U.S. will accept vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO list includes:
- The Pfizer/BioNtech Comirnaty vaccine
- The SII/Covishield and AstraZeneca/AZD1222 vaccines
- The Janssen/Ad26.COV 2.S developed by Johnson & Johnson
- The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine (mRNA 1273)
- The Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine
- The Sinovac-CoronaVac
Are There Exemptions?
Children between the ages of 2 and 17 are exempted from having to prove vaccination but must provide proof of negative COVID-19 test results. If an unvaccinated child is traveling with a vaccinated adult, then a negative viral test must be provided within three calendar days. And if that child is traveling with someone who meets the vaccination exemption, the negative test must be within one calendar day of departure.
So, What Are The Limited Exceptions For Foreign National Adults?
- Those who are certain COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial participants
- Those with rare medical contraindications to the vaccines
- Those who need to travel for emergency or humanitarian reasons
- Those who are traveling on nontourist visas from countries with low-vaccine availability
- Members of the armed forces and their immediate families, airline crew, ship crew, and diplomats
What Are The Immigration Issues?
Foreign nationals who have existing nonimmigrant visas, as well as those from countries that are part of the visa waiver program, will be permitted to enter the United States.
Recent policy requires that all new immigrants must be vaccinated before they can obtain legal permanent residency status. Therefore, those who will be attending immigrant visa interviews at overseas U.S. embassies before traveling into the U.S. must be vaccinated in advance.
But lifting the ban won’t automatically solve the massive visa backlog that has built up at U.S. embassies around the world since the pandemic began. Those hoping to secure visa appointments for immigrant as well as nonimmigrant visas should be prepared for continued delays. The backlogs emerged for various reasons, including refusal to process visas for those who were banned from entering the U.S. based solely on the country they are from or the type of visa they sought. Those who won diversity lottery visas are an example of an entire group for whom visas were not processed at all. Consulate closures and reduced appointment schedules due to COVID-19 protocols added to the backlog. There has been significant litigation on these issues in recent months, and time will tell how the backlog will be eliminated.
My hope is that the U.S. Department of State will begin implementing efficient processes, given the new policy. At least for now, many will be able to travel into the U.S. immediately and that is a big deal.
Tahmina Watson is the founding attorney of Watson Immigration Law in Seattle, where she practices US immigration law focusing on business immigration. She has been blogging about immigration law since 2008 and has written numerous articles in many publications. She is the author of Legal Heroes in the Trump Era: Be Inspired. Expand Your Impact. Change the World and The Startup Visa: Key to Job Growth and Economic Prosperity in America. She is also the founder of The Washington Immigrant Defense Network (WIDEN), which funds and facilitates legal representation in the immigration courtroom, and co-founder of Airport Lawyers, which provided critical services during the early travel bans. Tahmina is regularly quoted in the media and is the host of the podcast Tahmina Talks Immigration. She is a Puget Sound Business Journal 2020 Women of Influence honoree. Business Insider recently named her as one of the top immigration attorneys in the U.S. that help tech startups. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter at @tahminawatson.