NIE Waiver Eligibility Extended

National interest exceptions (NIE) to the US regional travel bans have now been expanded to include immigrant and fiancé(e) travelers and certain exchange visitors.

On April 8, 2021, the US State Department updated its policy on categories of visa applicants eligible for NIE waivers from the regional COVID-19 travel bans.

Under the new policy, eligibility for an NIE waiver now extends to foreign nationals entering on an immigrant or fiancé(e) visa from Brazil, China, Iran, Ireland, the Schengen Area, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

In addition, exchange program visitors may also qualify, including certain J-1 au pairs, interns, trainees, and specialized teachers, among others.

The new rule took immediate effect from April 8, 2021.

Travelers who require an NIE waiver to enter the US must ensure they obtain the relevant visa, and that they travel to the US within the 30-day validity period of the NIE waiver.

All international arrivals by into the US must also present a negative COVID test or evidence of recent COVID recovery.

Impact for business travelers & employers

The expansion of the NIE eligibility criteria has been welcomed by employers and business travelers who had previously been affected by the regional travel bans.

However, applicants are facing delayed appointments and processing in US consulates across the globe. US petitioning services continue to operate at reduced capacity with substantial backlogs due to the pandemic.

Applications are also being prioritized in accordance with State Department guidance: US citizen services first, followed by immigrant visa processing, and then nonimmigrant visa processing.

Applicants are advised to check the availability and processing times for their local consulate, which may require some degree of flexibility in travel arrangements given the potential for cancelled visa appointments or further changes in US travel restrictions.

Continued regional travel restrictions for travellers to the US

Presidential Proclamations 9984, 9992 and 10143 remain effective, banning foreign travellers who have been physically present in Brazil, China, Iran, Ireland, the Schengen Area, South Africa, and the United Kingdom in the 14 day period prior to seeking entry to the US, unless they qualify for an NIE.

‘Presence’ for the purposes of the regional travel bans includes transiting through any of the specified countries.

The bans do not apply to US citizens and green card holders and their immediate family members, among others.

Foreign nationals are only exempt if they qualify for an NIE.

Travelers from Ireland, the Schengen Area and the United Kingdom also retain their eligibility under broader NIE categories where they qualify as critical business and work travelers, certain F-1 and M-1 students, academics, J-1 students or journalists traveling from those countries.

US immigration advice

As a dedicated team of US attorneys based in London, NNU Immigration are advising multinational employers, entrepreneurs, investors, workers and other non-US nationals on US travel plans in light of the ongoing travel and entry restrictions due to the pandemic. To determine if you are eligible to travel under an NIE waiver, please contact our US immigration specialists for the latest advice for your specific circumstances.

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