State Department Issues New Guidance on National Interest Exceptions

On Thursday, May 27, Secretary of State Antony Blinken provided new guidance on eligibility for National Interest Exceptions (NIE’s), related to the ongoing regional travel bans due to COVID-19. Most notably, there is a new exception for individuals who provide “vital support or executive direction.”
What are the Changes
Travelers subject to Presidential Proclamations 9984, 9992, 10143, 10199, and similar subsequent PPs related to the spread of COVID-19, due to their presence in China, Iran, India, Brazil, South Africa, the Schengen area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, who would provide vital support or executive direction for critical infrastructure or for significant economic activity in the United States; journalists; students and certain academics covered by exchange visitor programs; immigrants; and fiancés may now qualify for a National Interest Exception (NIE).
What to Expect

Travelers in the categories described above who have a valid visa in the appropriate class or who have a valid ESTA authorization for travel under the Visa Waiver Program and seek to travel for purposes consistent with ESTA authorization should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate before traveling if they believe they may qualify for a National Interest Exception.

If a NIE is approved, they may travel on either a valid visa or ESTA authorization, as appropriate.  Each approved NIE is valid for 30 days and a single trip to the United States.

Students with valid F-1 or M-1 visas traveling to begin or continue an academic program do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual NIE to travel.  They may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the start of their academic studies.  NIE eligibility for students who have been present in Brazil, China, India, Iran, or South Africa applies only to programs that begin on or after August 1, 2021. Students seeking to apply for new F-1 or M-1 visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest embassy or consulate; those applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for an NIE to travel.



Over the past 17 months, President Donald Trump and later President Joe Biden signed Presidential Proclamations barring certain travelers from high-risk countries from coming to the United States. Currently, four COVID-19 related Presidential Proclamations limit entry to the US for people who were in the following countries within 14 days of their planned arrival to the US: Brazil China, Iran, Ireland, Schengen Area, United Kingdom, South Africa, India. US Citizens and permanent residents are not subject to these proclamations.

All travelers entering the United States must provide a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of departure or proof of recovery from the virus within the last 80 days.