Publisher’s Note: The White House announced on Oct. 15 that travel restrictions on fully vaccinated international travelers would be lifted beginning Nov. 8. The move will allow vaccinated travelers from most countries to visit the US for the first time in more than 18 months.
The Biden administration plans to lift the COVID-19 travel bans imposed in 2020 and replace them with vaccination and testing requirements for entry into the United States starting in November.
Claire Nilson, head of global mobility and immigration at Faegre Drinker’s London office, explained that since the start of the pandemic, travelers who have stayed in Brazil, China, the European Schengen countries, India, Iran, Ireland, South Africa and others had been banned from flying directly to the United States by the UK during the previous 14 days unless they were either US citizens or green card holders, or had previously applied for and been granted an exemption.
Schengen Area countries covered by the COVID-19 ban include Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania , Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands and Norway , Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
The Biden administration’s COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said fully vaccinated travelers must complete pre-departure testing within three days of their departure to the United States, but will not be required to quarantine upon arrival.
He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would set the definition of “fully vaccinated” and determine which vaccines are eligible for the guideline.
“So far, the US government has not clarified what an appropriate vaccination record will be and which COVID-19 vaccines will be recognized beyond the three already approved in the US [Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson]’ Nilsson said.
Notably, hundreds of millions of people worldwide have received AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which has been recognized by the World Health Organization but has not received approval from US regulators.
The CDC will also issue a contact-tracing order requiring airlines to collect contact information from every traveler to the United States. “This will allow the CDC and state and local health officials to track incoming travelers and those around them if anyone may have been exposed to COVID-19,” Zients said.
Alka Bahal, a partner at Fox Rothschild’s Morristown, NJ office, said it’s not just leisure travelers who are pleased with the Biden administration’s announcement; The move will have a significant positive impact on US business immigration.
“Many foreign nationals in the US on work visas have been restricted to the US because of the travel bans, unable to get home for fear of not being able to return,” Bahal said. “Hopefully, the lifting of the bans will soon be followed by the resumption of normal visa processing at US consulates and embassies worldwide. This will further increase visa processing by allowing foreigners who were unable to obtain their first US work visas to obtain them now and come to the US to work.”
For the past 18 months, virtually all visitors from the banned countries have been banned from traveling directly to the United States. Some resorted to workarounds, such as spending two weeks in a transit country like Mexico or the Dominican Republic before testing negative for coronavirus and then entering the United States
For foreign nationals who are not currently subject to any of the existing travel bans, the forthcoming directive sets an additional requirement for international travel – such persons must provide proof of vaccination in addition to COVID-19 tests.
“All of this information is subject to change by November as the White House has only announced its plans to lift the travel bans but has not yet done so,” said Matthew Gunn, a partner in Louisville, Kentucky. Office of Dinsmore. “No specific date in November has been announced for the lifting of the bans, nor do we have detailed information on how the new guidelines will be implemented.”
The new policy is expected to make travel easier, but backlogs at US consulates are likely to increase, delaying travel for those who need US visas.
“The fact that the travel bans are being lifted does not mean visa issuance will suddenly return to pre-travel ban processing rates,” Gunn said.
“U.S. consulates around the world are currently operating with reduced staffing levels, are subject to strict COVID-19 restrictions and are facing rising case backlogs while adhering to State Department guidelines on prioritization [green card] Visa applications ended [temporary work visas]. Consulates will still be struggling with this for some time, which means there will continue to be significant delays in making appointments for visas.”
Gunn recommended that anyone needing a visa to enter the United States book a consular appointment as soon as possible. “While they probably won’t be able to make an expedited application until after the bans are lifted, they will at least have an expedited application date where possible,” he said.
“Even if the rush application is ultimately denied, these applicants still have an appointment that will occur much sooner than if they had waited until November to schedule it.” In November, many will realize for the first time that the travel bans are no longer in place, and making an appointment should protect you from the flood of appointment requests that consulates will see as a result.”