Biden Administration Imposes Regional Travel Restriction for Southern African Countries
The Biden Administration issued a Presidential Proclamation restricting travel to the U.S. for noncitizens who have been present in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe at any point during the 14 day period prior to arrival in the U.S.
The ban took effect 12:01 AM EST on November 29, 2021 and will remain in effect until lifted by the President. This new regional travel restriction for countries in southern Africa stems from the emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Who is Exempted from the New Regional Travel Restriction
Similar to prior regional travel restrictions, the new travel ban does not apply to:
- U.S. citizens
- U.S. lawful permanent residents;
- any noncitizen national of the U.S.
- any noncitizen who is the spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
- any noncitizen who is the parent or legal guardian of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, provided that the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident is unmarried and under the age of 21;
- any noncitizen who is the sibling of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, provided that both are unmarried and under the age of 21;
- any noncitizen who is the child, foster child, or ward of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, or who is a prospective adoptee seeking to enter the U.S. pursuant to the IR-4 or IH-4 visa classifications;
- any noncitizen traveling at the invitation of the United States 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 noncitizen otherwise traveling to the U.S. as air or sea crew;
- any noncitizen seeking entry into or transiting the U.S. 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;
- any noncitizen who is a member of the U.S. Armed Forces or who is a spouse or child of a member of the U.S. Armed Forces;
- any noncitizen whose entry would further important United States 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; or,
- any noncitizen or group of noncitizens whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their designees.
Visas and National Interest Exemptions
Imposition of the new regional travel ban raises questions regarding visa issuance in the impacted countries. With prior regional bans, U.S. consulates stopped processing visas for applicants in the travel restricted countries. This prevented numerous individuals from securing a visa and then quarantining in a non-restricted country prior to traveling to the U.S. Also, with prior travel bans, National Interest Exemptions (NIEs) were granted under evolving standards. We await further guidance from the U.S. Department of State as to whether it will continue to process visa applications in the impacted countries, the standards for NIEs under the new ban, and the validity of NIEs that were previously issued for travelers from South Africa. Individuals traveling from the restricted region who were previously issued an NIE should not assume that the NIE remains valid for travel to the U.S.
Update November 30, 2021: According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, NIEs issued under previous proclamations are void with respect to the new regional travel ban for southern African countries. For example, a visa holder from South Africa who was previously issued an NIE in connection with the January 25, 2021 Proclamation restricting travel from South Africa may not use that NIE to secure admission pursuant to the November 26, 2021 Proclamation. We await an official announcement from the Department of State confirming that the previously issued NIE is void and/or issuing instructions on how to secure a new NIE.
Vaccination and Testing Requirements for All International Travelers
Noncitizen nonimmigrants traveling to the U.S. who are not subject to the new regional travel restrictions nonetheless remain subject to the global vaccination requirement imposed by Presidential Proclamation 10294 and effective November 8, 2021.
Additionally, prior to boarding a flight to the U.S., all travelers – noncitizen nonimmigrants, U.S. citizens, U.S. LPRs and U.S. nationals – are required to show one of the following:
- If fully vaccinated: Proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test result taken no more than 3 days before travel.
- If NOT fully vaccinated: A negative COVID-19 test result taken no more than 1 day before travel.
Update: Effective December 6, 2021, all travelers, regardless of vaccination status or citizenship, must present a negative COVID-19 test result taken no more than 1 day before travel.
Children under 2 years old are not required to test. There are also accommodations for people who have documented recovery from COVID-19 in the past 90 days. Additional information about the testing requirement is available here.
As the world reacts to the Omicron variant, other countries, including, but not limited to, the European Union member countries, the United Kingdom, Japan, Israel and Morocco, announced travel restrictions, and some countries may impose additional quarantine and testing requirements for other travelers. All travelers should check with airlines and investigate restrictions imposed by their destination country when making travel plans and immediately prior to departure.
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