In response to the Omicron COVID-19 variant, President Joseph Biden has issued a presidential proclamation imposing a COVID-19 public health travel ban which prohibits the immigrant and nonimmigrant entry of foreign nationals who have been physically present in the following Southern African countries within 14 days of their travel to the United States: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. The ban restrictions take effect at 12:01 am EST on November 29, 2021 and will remain in place until terminated by the President.
Travel ban exceptions and implementation
Those exempt or excepted from the new regional travel ban will be permitted to travel to the United States if they comply with the new vaccination and testing requirements recently imposed for international air travel. Individuals exempt or excepted from the Southern African ban include:
- U.S. citizens and nationals;
- U.S. lawful permanent residents;
- Spouses of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents;
- A foreign national who is the parent or legal guardian of an unmarried U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident under the age of 21;
- A foreign national who is the sibling of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, provided they are both unmarried and under 21;
- A foreign national 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 United States on an IR-4 or IH-4 visa;
- A foreign national whose entry would be in the national interest; and
- Members of the U.S. armed forces and their spouses and children.
The criteria and standards for the “national interest exception” under this new regional COVID travel ban are not yet known; it is expected that the State Department will issue guidance soon. It should not be assumed that national interest exceptions issued under prior regional bans (for travel from South Africa, India, China, Brazil and several European countries, among others) will be valid under the new Southern African COVID travel ban.
Under prior regional bans, if a foreign national was subject to the ban and did not qualify for an exception, the State Department would not issue a visa to that individual. The U.S. government may take the same position with respect to the new Southern African regional ban and refuse to issue a visa unless a foreign national qualifies for an exception.
New rules for international air travelers remain in effect for those who qualify for any of the exceptions to the Southern African COVID ban. These rules have been in effect since November 8 and require COVID vaccination and testing for most foreign nationals traveling to the United States.