It is being reported that a White House official has confirmed that on November 8, the White House will rescind the existing regional COVID-19 travel bans and instead implement a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for foreign national international air travel. This follows a late September announcement in which the White House announced this significant upcoming policy shift and released broad information, but provided no date on which the bans would be rescinded and the vaccine requirement would take effect. The bans apply to foreign nationals recently present in Brazil, China, India, Iran, Ireland, the Schengen Area, South Africa, or the United Kingdom. The new vaccination requirements would apply to adult foreign nationals entering the United States from anywhere abroad.
Official confirmation of the implementation date and details concerning acceptable vaccines and documentation are expected but have not yet been released.
A closer look
Upon implementation of the new vaccine policy, foreign nationals will be required to provide proof that they have received full COVID vaccination in order to board a flight to the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will provide implementation details on which vaccines will be accepted. Recently, a CDC official stated to news outlets that the U.S. government will accept vaccines approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization (WHO); however, this information has not been confirmed officially.
Limited exceptions to the vaccine policy are expected to be available for children, COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial participants, and those traveling for an important reason who lack access to vaccination in a timely manner.
Existing COVID testing requirements are expected to remain the same for vaccinated travelers. Unvaccinated U.S. citizens and certain foreign nationals eligible for exceptions from the vaccine requirement are expected to be required to provide proof of a negative COVID test taken within one day of their flight, and also provide proof that they have purchased a viral test to be taken after their arrival in the United States. However, testing details have not yet been officially confirmed.
The new policy is also expected to include a contact tracing mechanism for airlines to implement with respect to all international air passengers.
It is not yet known whether November 8 will also be the date the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will stop barring “non-essential” travel from Canadian and Mexican land borders (and ferry travel) and impose a COVID vaccination requirement to those seeking to enter for tourism and personal visits. In its announcement of the upcoming border policy change, DHS stated it would align its change with the policy shift in international air travel.
What the new vaccine policy means for foreign national travelers
For foreign nationals not currently subject to any of the existing travel bans, the forthcoming policy adds an additional requirement to international travel; they will need to provide proof of vaccination in addition to COVID testing.
Once the new policy takes effect, foreign nationals currently subject to any of the regional COVID travel bans should see some easing of restrictions, depending on their circumstances:
- Foreign nationals traveling under the Visa Waiver Program or existing valid visa stamps: Vaccinated individuals traveling with a Visa Waver Program ESTA approval or on existing valid visas will not need to seek government approval of a national interest exception (NIE) to a regional COVID travel ban prior to travel. With proof of vaccination and testing, these foreign nationals will be permitted to travel using their valid documents. (F and M student visa holders subject to the travel bans already receive automatic NIEs and do not require advance approval before travel.)
- Foreign nationals who require a visa to travel: Those who require a new visa and would normally be subject to a travel ban will not need to seek an NIE in connection with their visa application. However, consular backlogs, delays and reduced operations persist worldwide and could worsen as more individuals seek visas after the new policy is implemented. These foreign nationals may still face difficulty obtaining a visa appointment if consular operations are limited in their area due to local COVID conditions.
Details of testing requirements are expected to be confirmed when the final policy is issued.
Until the new policy takes effect, those traveling from a country subject to a COVID-19 travel ban remain subject to the NIE requirement, unless otherwise exempt.