EAH Immigration Blog

DOS Provides Information on National Interest Exceptions (NIE) for Regional COVID Proclamations

On April 8, 2021, the DOS announced that the travel of immigrants, fiancé(e) visa holders, certain exchange visitors, and pilots/aircrew traveling for training or aircraft pickup, delivery, or maintenance is in the national interest for purposes of approving exceptions under the geographic proclamations restricting travel due to COVID-19. These proclamations restrict the entry of individuals physically present, within the 14-day period prior to their attempted entry into the United States, in China, Iran, Schengen Area, United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, or South Africa.

National Interest Exceptions for Immigrants and Fiancé(e)s

DOS determined that travel on an immigrant or fiancé(e) visa is in the national interest for purposes of granting exceptions under the geographic COVID proclamations.  Immigrant visa processing posts may now grant immigrant and fiancé(e) visas to eligible applicants, notwithstanding these proclamations. Immigrant and K fiancé visa applicants now eligible should review the website of the nearest embassy or consulate which processes immigrant visas to verify which visa services are currently available. At posts where immigrant visa processing is available, immigrant visas will be prioritized in accordance with DOS guidance on the phased resumption of visa services.  An embassy or consulate will resume adjudicating all routine visa cases only when it is safe and adequate resources are available. After meeting demand for services for U.S. citizens, embassies and consulates will continue to prioritize immediate family members of U.S. citizens, including intercountry adoptions and spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens, fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens, and certain Special Immigrant Visa applications.  

National Interest Exceptions for Certain Exchange Visitors

DOS also determined that travel by certain exchange visitors is in the national interest for purposes of granting exceptions under the geographic COVID Presidential Proclamations.  Under certain circumstances, the Secretary determined national interest exceptions under these proclamations may be approved for au pairs, travel for an exchange program, travel by interns and trainees on U.S. government agency sponsored programs, travel by specialized teachers in accredited educational institutions with a program number beginning with G-5 or an exchange visitor where he or she will teach full-tome, or travel in support of critical foreign policy objectives.

On April 26, DOS made yet another national interest determination regarding categories of travelers eligible for exceptions under other Presidential Proclamations related to the spread of COVID-19. As a result of this determination, together with national interest determinations already in place, travelers subject to these proclamations (due to their presence in China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the Schengen area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland), who are seeking to provide vital support for critical infrastructure, journalists, students, and certain academics covered by exchange visitor programs, may now qualify for a National Interest Exception (NIE). Students and academics subject to these proclamations due to their presence in China, Iran, Brazil, or South Africa, may qualify for an NIE only if their academic program begins August 1, 2021 or later.

National Interest Exceptions for Pilots and Air Crew Traveling for Training and Aircraft Pickup, Delivery, or Maintenance

DOS determined that travel by pilots and aircrew for training or aircraft pickup, delivery, or maintenance is in the national interest for purposes of granting exceptions under the geographic Presidential Proclamations. This includes individuals who are traveling to the United States for training or aircraft pickup, delivery, maintenance on B-1/B-2, B-1, M-1 visas, Visa Waiver Program authorizations, and certain M-2 dependents when the principal’s necessary training is four weeks or more.  Access by qualified pilots and other essential air crew to aircraft maintenance, simulator training, continuing education such as proficiency checks, and other vital safety certification courses offered in the United States are important components of safe skies.

The new DOS guidelines provide specific information related to each type of traveler listed above.  However, U.S. consulates in each country subject to these proclamations have the discretion to interpret the guidance from DOS. Therefore, eligible travelers are strongly advised to contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate before traveling to determine if they qualify for an NIE .

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