Update on National Interest Exceptions to Overcome Entry Bans

On August 12, 2020, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) issued guidance on obtaining national interest exceptions (NIE) to the various proclamations.

A.   Individuals who already hold valid visas or those who do not require visas (e.g. ESTA travelers) and who seek to enter the U.S. from one of the five banned geographical areas must either:

1) Quarantine in a third (non-banned country) for at least 14 days before making travel arrangements to the U.S.; or
2) Obtain a NIE letter from the Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over their situation to allow them to travel; or
3) Obtain clearance from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at one of a handful of airports in the U.S. processing such requests.
National interest exceptions for this category of nonimmigrants are available to those who qualify based on at least one of these reasons:

Economic: engaging in temporary travel that provides a substantial economic benefit to the U.S. economy, such as: technical experts and specialists; senior-level managers and executives; and professional athletes, dependents and essential staff who enter the U.S. to participate in major sporting events, which bolster the U.S. economy.

Investors: traveling in connection with investment or trade in the U.S. economy that generates substantial economic benefit, including E-1 treaty-traders and E-2 treaty investors.

Students: All students and their dependents traveling to the U.S. to:

  • Pursue a full-course of study as an F-1 or M-1 student; or
  • Participate in an exchange program as a bona fide student.

Academics: All exchange visitors and their dependents traveling to the U.S. under a J-1 in the following categories:

  • Professors
  • Research Scholars
  • Short-Term Scholars
  • Specialists

Professional Athletes: as we previously reported, professional athletes, including e-sports athletes, may be exempt from the five geographical Presidential Proclamations. Interested parties should reach out to our firm for additional information regarding how to be added to the White House exemption list for Professional Athletes.

B. Individuals not in possession of a valid visa and who are seeking to enter the U.S. from one of the banned countries or who require issuance of an H-1B, H-2B, J-1, or L-1 visa must first be approved for an emergency appointment request by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate (usually in their home country). In most cases, their request for a NIE will be submitted simultaneously or shortly thereafter. A final determination regarding visa and NIE eligibility will be made at the time of the visa interview.

H-1B or L-1 visa holders may seek an NIE if they are public health or health-care professionals, or researchers working to alleviate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic; individuals seeking to resume ongoing employment in the U.S. in the same position with the same employer and visa classification; or technical specialists, senior level managers, and other workers whose travel is necessary to facilitate the immediate and continued economic recovery of the United States.

The new guidance also provides exceptions for certain J nonimmigrants performing specialized childcare, public health, or educational roles, and those fulfilling critical and time sensitive U.S. foreign policy objectives.

A final determination of the applicant’s eligibility for the visa and national interest exception are made at the time of the interview. If the principal visa applicant is granted an exception, the applicant’s spouse and dependent children will also benefit from the exception.

Applicants must meet certain eligibility criteria to qualify. For detailed information, please refer to the Department of State guidance here.

C.   Individuals not in possession of a valid visa but who require a visa in a category other than an H-1B, H-2B, J-1, or L-1, and who are not seeking to enter the U.S. from one of the banned countries need only request an emergency appointment from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Each post has different requirements for what qualifies as an “emergency.”

Our attorneys and staff are experienced in navigating the NIE and emergency appointment requirements and are prepared to assist you.