Foreign nationals planning to travel internationally and return to the United States this holiday season should consider several additional factors, including evolving COVID-19 policies worldwide, updated U.S. vaccination requirements, and continued reduced operations at many U.S. consulates. If you will need to apply for a visa while abroad, be prepared for limited consular appointments in certain regions, possible delays in visa issuance, and potential appointment cancellations due to changing COVID-19 local conditions. Ensure that all of your travel documentation is accurate and contains sufficient validity to minimize reentry issues.
INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL THIS HOLIDAY SEASON
This year, foreign nationals planning to travel abroad during the holiday season continue to face several additional considerations.
What are the travel and COVID-19 restrictions in your destination country?
As we enter the endemic phase of the COVID-19 era, travel restrictions and health requirements are waning in favor of existing vaccination initiatives. Travelers should familiarize themselves with the policies that apply to their destination and be aware that COVID-19 policies can change with little or no notice.
Are you returning to the United States by air?
Nonimmigrants (including advance parole holders) traveling by air to the United States from anywhere abroad will need to comply with COVID-19 vaccination requirements, unless eligible for an exception (discussed below). They will also need to complete a health attestation and provide contact tracing information in order to board an international flight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued comprehensive guidance on international air travel rules, including acceptable vaccines and vaccine documentation and a travel assessment tool.
If you are a U.S. citizen, a lawful permanent resident, or are traveling to the United States on an immigrant visa, you are not required to be vaccinated in order to board an international flight.
While COVID testing is no longer a requirement for international travel, the CDC has provided recommended guidance on pre-travel COVID testing.
Are you eligible for an exception to the international air travel vaccine requirement for nonimmigrants?
The following nonimmigrants are not required to be vaccinated in order to board a flight to the United States:
- Children under 18;
- Foreign nationals with valid U.S. visas (other than B-1 or B-2 visas) who are citizens of countries with limited vaccine availability, as identified by the CDC.
- Those with documented medical contraindications to the COVID vaccine;
- Those issued a humanitarian or emergency exception;
- Certain COVID vaccine clinical trial participants;
- Certain aircrew members;
- Sea crew members traveling with a C-1 or D nonimmigrant visa;
- Members of the U.S. armed forces, their spouses, and their children under 18;
- Persons on diplomatic or official foreign government travel; and
- Individuals whose entry would be in the U.S. “national interest,” as determined by the U.S. government. This exception is rarely, if ever, granted. National interest exceptions (NIE) issued under the former regional COVID-19 travel bans are no longer valid and will not exempt a foreign national from the COVID vaccination requirement.
Though the above individuals will not need to be fully vaccinated in order to board a flight to the United States, most will need to comply with additional public health measures after arrival, including vaccination, testing and quarantine. You can find the full set of public health requirements for unvaccinated foreign nationals, including certain further exceptions for children on the CDC website.
Are you returning to the United States by land border or ferry travel?
Effective January 22, 2022, non-U.S. travelers seeking to enter the United States from Canada or Mexico by land or ferry for all purposes are required to provide proof of full vaccination against COVID-19. This includes “essential” activities such as work and business travel under the H, L, O, or B visa classifications; and “non-essential” activities such as tourism or personal travel. Exceptions from the vaccine requirement exist for children under 18 and individuals with medical contraindications, among others.
Land border and ferry travelers are required to verbally attest to their vaccination status as well as provide proof of vaccination at the border.
U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents and U.S. nationals are not subject to the vaccination requirement.
COVID testing is not required for land border or ferry travel.
What is an acceptable vaccination?
Only vaccines approved or authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization (WHO) will be accepted for international air and border travel. Because this list is subject to change, travelers with questions should consult the CDC website for the latest information on acceptable vaccines.
The agency considers a person fully vaccinated two weeks (14 days) after the last dose of an accepted vaccine series (whether one- or two-dose). “Mix-and-match” vaccine doses will be accepted as long as both vaccines are on the FDA or WHO lists and the doses are administered at least 17 days apart. Booster shots are not required in order to be considered fully vaccinated.
What documentation of vaccination will be accepted?
Digital or paper documentation will be accepted in order to verify vaccination status, as long as the record contains:
- Biographical information that matches the foreign national’s travel documents;
- Name of official source issuing the record (e.g. public health agency, authorized vaccine provider);
- Vaccine manufacturer; and
- Date(s) of vaccination.
Will you need to apply for a visa while outside the United States?
While many U.S. consulates abroad have returned to processing pre-COVID-19 volumes, the amount and types of visa cases being processed by each consular post depends on local conditions. A significant immigrant visa application backlog also continues to impact adjudication delays or slowdowns at these issuing posts.
If you secure a visa appointment, you should prepare to be flexible. A change in consular resources or COVID conditions 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.
Does the United States have COVID public health requirements after reentry from international travel?
At this time, the United States has no general federal quarantine requirements; however, as noted above, many foreign nationals who are exempt from the international air travel vaccine requirement will be required to quarantine for five days after arrival in the United States, along with other public health measures. For everyone else, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued after-travel recommendations only, which can be found here.
Quarantine requirements in the United States can also be imposed by the U.S. state through which you enter. Most states have removed their state-specific after-travel requirements and instead refer travelers to the CDC. However, state policies can change quickly; travelers should closely monitor their destination state requirements before travel and prior to reentry to the United States.
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.
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 U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) I-94 website here. You should send a copy to your immigration professional and retain one for your records. Notify your immigration professional as soon as possible if you note any errors in your I-94 record.
Check whether 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, CBP 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, or apply for an extension with USCIS while in the United States. Notify your designated immigration professional if you have been issued a truncated I-94 record due to passport validity.
Will your travel affect any pending application with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)?
If you have an adjustment of status application or nonimmigrant change of status application pending with USCIS, consult immigration counsel prior to planning any travel. You may be prevented from travel or risk abandonment of your pending application with USCIS. Travel can also impact a pending I-539 extension of stay request.