- The State Department issued guidance expanding the validity of national interest exceptions (NIEs) granted under the regional COVID-19 travel bans. NIEs will now be valid for one full year after approval and allow for multiple entries – a significant change from the single entry, 30 day NIE validity under the prior policy.
- The new one year, multiple entry validity policy is effective immediately and also applies to NIEs issued in the last twelve months, provided that the individual’s purpose of travel remains the same.
- The new policy does not change NIE categories or criteria. Applicants who are not eligible to benefit from the validity expansion will need to qualify for an NIE under existing standards.
Expansion of NIE Validity
The State Department has expanded the validity of its national interest exceptions (NIEs) to the regional COVID-19 travel bans to a 12-month, multiple-entry validity, effective immediately. Previously, these NIEs were valid for 30 days and a single entry only. The policy change affects NIEs issued under all of the existing travel bans – for those present in the following countries within 14 days of trying to enter the United States: Brazil, China, India, Iran, South Africa, the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.
This new State Department policy is effective immediately and also applies to NIEs issued in the last 12 months as long as the foreign national’s purpose of travel remains the same as when the NIE was initially issued. Existing NIEs can be used for 12 months from their approval date for the same purpose under which they were granted.
At this time, however, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has not changed the validity of NIEs issued at CBP ports of entry and pre-flight inspection sites. CBP-issued NIEs appear to remain valid for 30 days and a single entry for now. Stakeholders are seeking clarity on CBP’s position following the State Department change.
For 12 months after consular NIE approval, individuals traveling for the same purpose will not need to submit a new NIE request. As the new policy is implemented, we should learn more about what the government considers travel “for the same purpose” and whether one can use an NIE issued in different visa classifications if travel is generally for the same purpose (for example, whether an NIE issued with an L visa may be used for O-1 travel on the same project).
Those using the expanded NIE validity policy are still advised to plan travel with flexibility in the context of the ongoing COVID emergency. Changes to travel ban policies and COVID travel restrictions occur with little or no notice and may substantially delay or prevent reentry to the United States.
As a reminder, for international airline passengers ages two years and older, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requires a negative COVID test or evidence of recent COVID recovery in order to travel to the United States.