Just a few weeks ago, President Biden rescinded the regional COVID-19 travel restrictions that applied to 33 countries. These restrictions were replaced with a new requirement that included that all foreign nationals be fully vaccinated before boarding airplanes inbound to the United States.
However, last week, the President reinstated travel restrictions for eight African countries -- Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. The restrictions, which took effect yesterday, were reinstated in an effort to deter the spread of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.
The travel restrictions are virtually the same as those found in prior “travel ban” Proclamations. The latest Proclamation, with a few exemptions and exceptions, bars entry to the United States of non-U.S. citizens, immigrants, or nonimmigrants who have been in any of those eight African countries within the 14 days before their entry or attempted entry.
U.S. citizens are not subject to the Proclamation.
The following noncitizens are exempt from the Proclamation:
- Lawful permanent residents of the United States.
- Noncitizen nationals of the United States.
- Spouses of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.
- Parents or legal guardians of U.S. citizens, or lawful permanent residents who are unmarried and under the age of 21.
- Siblings of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, provided that both the noncitizen and the citizen/lawful permanent resident are unmarried and under the age of 21.
- Children, foster children, or wards of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, or prospective adoptees seeking to enter the United States pursuant to the IR-4 or IH-4 visa classifications.
- Any noncitizen traveling at the invitation of the U.S. Government for a purpose related to containment or mitigation of the virus.
- Any noncitizen traveling as a nonimmigrant pursuant to a C-1, D, or C-1/D nonimmigrant visa as a crewmember or any foreign national otherwise traveling to the United States as air or sea crew.
- Any noncitizen
- seeking entry into or transiting the United States pursuant to one of the following visas: A-1, A-2, C-2, C-3 (as a foreign government official or immediate family member of an official), E-1 (as an employee of TECRO or TECO or the employee’s immediate family members), G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1 through NATO-4, or NATO-6 (or seeking to enter as a nonimmigrant in one of those NATO categories); or
- whose travel falls within the scope of section 11 of the United Nations Headquarters Agreement.
- Members of the U.S. Armed Forces, or their spouses or children.
- Any noncitizen whose entry would further important U.S. law enforcement objectives as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees, based on a recommendation of the Attorney General or his designee.
- Any noncitizen or group of noncitizens whose entry would be in the national interest as determined by the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees.
Vaccination, negative COVID test still required for exempt noncitizens
Even if a noncitizen is eligible for entry to the United States under one of the exemptions listed above, proof of vaccination and a negative COVID test will still be required pursuant to Proclamation 10294.
(Proclamation 10294 has less stringent requirements for unvaccinated U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.)
Refugees and those seeking asylum
The Proclamation states that it does not affect the ability of an individual to seek asylum, withholding of removal, or protection under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, consistent with the laws of the United States.
These travel restrictions are enforced by the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security, in consultation with each other.
Most noncitizens, including employees, who are covered by the new Proclamation should avoid travel to any of these eight African countries until further notice. It goes without saying that a noncitizen who does not qualify for any of the exemptions should stay in the United States. On the other hand, if a noncitizen is clearly exempt from the Proclamation, such as a lawful permanent resident, and can easily establish exemption when boarding a flight or seeking entry, then traveling to these countries may not entail much risk. However, if the applicable exemption requires the exercise of judgment and discretion on the part of a government official -- for example, as required for a National Interest Exception -- the noncitizen will face a significant risk of being denied reentry.