In a move that should significantly ease traveling to the United States, the Biden Administration has announced plans to withdraw COVID-related geographic travel restrictions in early November. Currently, most non-citizens who have been present in any of the following countries or areas within the previous 14 days are prohibited from entering the United States without being granted a National Interest Exception:
- Schengen Area
- United Kingdom
- South Africa
Instead, these travelers will be required to prove they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within three days of boarding a United States-bound flight.
The CDC will provide a list of acceptable vaccines that will be required. More details will follow in early November.
This new policy will also affect those from countries that are not affected by travel bans because they will also have to show proof of being fully vaccinated.
This move should make travel to the United States less expensive and more predictable. As mentioned above, these people now either have to spend at least two weeks in a country with which the U.S. has no travel restrictions or apply for and obtain a National Interest Exception (NIE) allowing entry within those 14 days.
For those from countries subject to a ban, this announcement will be a mixed bag. Those with unexpired visas and those taking advantage of the Visa Waiver or ESTA program will have a much easier time because they will no longer be required to obtain a National Interest Exception (NIE) to travel to the U.S. They will be able to board their flights with only their proof of vaccination.
On the other hand, those without valid visas will need to obtain them and will still face long, COVID-related backlogs at US consulates abroad as they apply for them. Depending on local conditions, some consulates are still not processing many types of visa applications, resulting in delays and uncertainty for these would-be travelers. In addition, many of those who are able to obtain a consular appointment are still required to wait months for their interviews.
Travelers who are planning trips to the United States and can delay their plans may want to reschedule until after this policy takes effect in two months in order to save the cost and effort involved in applying for an NIE. For those who can’t, they will remain subject to the current travel bans until early November.