The U.S. State Department has expanded eligibility for National Interest Exceptions to regional and country-specific COVID-19 Travel Bans
On May 27th, the U.S. State Department announced an expansion in eligibility for National Interest Exception waivers to the various regional and country-specific COVID-19 Travel Bans. Over the past year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. has imposed a ban on anyone traveling to the U.S. from the China, Brazil, India, Iran, the so-called Schengen countries (the countries of western Europe) and South Africa. These Travel Bans all contain a number of exceptions including for foreign nationals whose travel is in the national interest of the United States. The categories of who may apply for a National Interest Exception (“NIE”) waiver to these Travel Bans has changed over time. Since April of 2021, the State Department has allowed applications for NIEs for foreign nationals whose travel involves the provision of “vital support for a critical infrastructure” sector in the United States. However, the State Department appears to have taken a very restrictive stance on these applications. Under the April 2021 criteria, fewer NIEs were approved than were under earlier criteria based solely on economic benefit to the U.S.
The latest announcement on May 27th makes important changes to eligibility for an NIE waiver, again allowing for NIEs based on economic impact. While the category of providing “vital support for critical infrastructure” remains, a sub-category has been added for foreign nationals providing “executive direction for critical infrastructure.” In addition, the State Department has added a category for foreign nationals that provide “vital support or executive direction for significant economic activity in the United States.” This new standard will make it easier for executive-level employees to obtain an NIE waiver across industries. In addition, the reference to “significant economic activity” broadens the scope of eligibility for the waiver more generally.
We will up-date the Parker Gallini LLP web site with any changes or developments with respect to NIE waivers.