NIE Waiver: Can you travel to the US to attend a business meeting, event or conference?

US travel restrictions remain in place, suspending entry for non-US travelers arriving from certain countries, including the UK and 26 Schengen Area countries.

The restrictions apply even if you have a valid ESTA, visa or have been double vaccinated.

Countries affected by the travel ban include the Schengen area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, China, India, Brazil, South Africa, and Iran. The Schengen area covers Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Who is exempt from the travel ban?

Under the current rules, entry into the USA for non-US nationals is only allowed if the traveler applies for, and is granted, a National Interest Exception (NIE waiver), or if they are exempt from the ban on the basis of a family exemption or visa classification.

US citizens, Green Card holders and some of their close family members are exempt and able to travel to the United States without requiring a waiver, provided they meet all other applicable travel requirements such as proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

There is also an exemption for those who spend 14 days outside of one of the “banned countries”, which means it is an option for people from a banned country to spend 14 days in Mexico or the Caribbean prior to entering the US.

National interest exemption waivers to the US travel ban

If your reason for travel falls into one of the following categories, and you are not otherwise exempt, you may qualify for a National Interest Exemption to the travel ban:

  • Those whose travel is in the US national interest for vital support to critical infrastructure, significant economic activity, or national security, such as investors
  • Students
  • Academics/researchers
  • Public health professionals
  • Government officials
  • Crew members
  • Emergency medical treatment
  • Humanitarian reasons

Does business travel qualify for the NIE waiver?

The restrictions have suspended most travel that falls under the B1/B2 visa classifications, which covers tourism and leisure travel to the USA. This would also generally include attending routine business meetings and professional conferences, however, the following exceptions to the ban apply in relation to professionals and business-related activities:

  • Economic travel: Temporary travel to provide a substantial economic benefit to the US economy such as:
    • Senior-level managers and executives and their dependents, for travel to provide strategic direction necessary for the success of the company or venture.
    • Technical experts and specialists to install, service, maintain, or receive training for vessels, machinery and other specialized equipment used by US and foreign firms with a substantial investment in the United States.
  • Professional athletes, their dependents and essential staff entering the US to participate in major sporting events that bolster the US economy.
  • Investors: Travel is permissible where it is in relation to investment or trade activity in the US economy which generates a substantial economic impact. This would apply to E visa investors and treaty-traders and the senior-level employees who provide strategic direction or expertise essential to the success of the investment, and their dependents.

How to apply for an NIE

Applications for the NIE waiver are made to your local Embassy or Consulate based on a valid ESTA or visa, or alongside an application for a new visa. You must be in the country where the NIE application is filed at the time the application is made.

NIE application processes, supporting documents and lead times vary by country, but you should expect to have to provide justification as to why you qualify under the NIE.

Can you use your NIE for multiple entry?

NIE waivers are now valid for 12 months from the date of issuance and can be used for multiple entry use, provided they are being used for the purpose for which they were granted and as stated on the waiver. The 12 month authorization only applies to NIEs approved by a US Embassy.

The determination of eligibility for admission to the United States remains at the discretion of U.S. Custom and Border Protection (CBP) officials.

US immigration advice

If you are planning to travel to the US and believe you may qualify for a waiver under a national interest exemption, or if you do not believe you qualify yet have an urgent need to travel to the US, speak to our US immigration specialists to discuss your options.

This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.