Holiday Travel During the Coronavirus Pandemic
This year, foreign nationals hoping to travel abroad during the holiday season face several additional considerations:
What are the travel and COVID-19 restrictions in your destination country?
Nearly all countries and jurisdictions have implemented some combination of entry, quarantine, and sometimes exit requirements or advisories in response to the COVID-19 emergency. Travelers should research policies that apply to their destination. Also be aware, however, that the COVID-19 pandemic is a highly fluid situation and policies can change with little or no notice.
Are you traveling to a country that is subject to U.S. COVID-19 public health bans or restrictions?
Foreign nationals who have been physically present in Brazil, China, Iran, Ireland, the European Schengen Area or the United Kingdom within 14 days before seeking admission to the United States will be denied entry unless they qualify for an exception. Even transit through an airport in one of these countries counts as physical presence and triggers the ban.
Some foreign nationals may be eligible for exceptions to the bans, but the most commonly used waivers can only be granted by the U.S. Embassies and Consulates while the person is outside the United States.
Foreign nationals hoping to travel to Canada or Mexico should be aware that current law permits only “essential” travel across the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada land borders (and ferry travel) through at least December 21 and likely beyond. “Non-essential” travel that is banned across land borders is travel for tourism or recreation. U.S. citizens, green card holders, and some others are exempt from the restrictions. These restrictions do not affect air travel.
Will you need to apply for a visa while outside the United States?
Many U.S. consulates abroad are still operating at reduced capacity due to local COVID-19 conditions. Visa appointments are limited in many areas. Some posts are scheduling appointments only in emergency or mission-critical circumstances. Many are applying a strict case-type priority system, which favors emergency cases, diplomats, and COVID-19-related travel over student and employment-based nonimmigrant visa appointments. Emergency appointments are difficult to obtain.
If you secure a visa appointment, you should also prepare to be flexible. An increase in COVID-19 cases in the host country could mean further tightening of consular operations, including appointment cancellations or rescheduling with little notice.
Check your particular U.S. consulate website for information on their operations. A list of consulate websites can be found at www.usembassy.gov.
Will you need to apply for an H, L, or J-1 visa while abroad?
Another hurdle may exist for those seeking H, L, or certain J-1 visas while outside the United States. President Trump’s June 22 presidential proclamation restricting visa issuance in these categories remains in effect until December 31, 2020. The ban is likely to be extended beyond that date.
Does the United States have COVID public health requirements after reentry from international travel?
At this time, the United States has no federal quarantine requirements. The federal agency Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued after-travel recommendations only, which can be found here.
Quarantine requirements in the United States are governed by the U.S. state through which you enter. Some states do not have after-travel requirements in place. For some states, entry from a CDC Level 2 or Level 3 COVID-19 country triggers heightened requirements. State policies can vary widely and change quickly; travelers should closely monitor their destination state requirements before travel and prior to reentry to the United States. The following are links to resources regarding travel for some major states:
- California State COVID-19 Travel Advisory
- New York State COVID-19 Travel Advisory
- Texas Department of State Health Services Information for Travelers
- Virginia Department of Health Information for Travelers
Are all of your travel documents valid and accurate?
It is more important than ever to ensure that your travel documents are valid and accurate both before international travel and after your reentry, as noted below:
Passport validity. In general, your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the expiration of your period of admission to the United States. Many countries have an agreement with the United States under which a passport is deemed valid for an additional six months past its expiration date so that the passport holder can return to his or her country of citizenship.
Visa validity. The visa stamp in your passport must reflect your current nonimmigrant visa status, it must be unexpired, and, if the visa has a limited number of entries, it must have a remaining valid entry available for reentry to the United States. If you need to apply for a new visa while abroad in order to reenter the United States, be aware of the restrictions described earlier that may present challenges in doing so.
Obtain your Form I-94 arrival record immediately upon return to the United States. The expiration date on your I-94 record marks the expiration of your eligibility to remain in valid legal status in the United States. Overstaying this I-94 date can have serious consequences.
After your arrival in the United States, you must obtain a printout of your online I-94 on the CBP I-94 website here. The I-94 date on this electronic record should match the date on the I-94 stamp placed in your passport by CBP upon your entry to the United States.
Check if your I-94 was issued with your passport expiration date instead of your visa status expiration. Please note that if your passport expires prior to your current nonimmigrant status, U.S. Customs and Border Protection may issue an I-94 valid only to the earlier passport expiration date. This is not an error, and it could result in an overstay if you do not address it prior to expiration. To obtain an I-94 record reflecting the full length of stay in your current authorized status, you would need to travel abroad again and present your newly extended passport upon reentry to the United States.
Will your travel affect any pending application with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services (USCIS)?
If you have an adjustment of status application or nonimmigrant change of status application pending with USCIS, consult your immigration counsel prior to planning any travel. You may be prevented from travel or risk abandonment of your pending application with USCIS.