The United States State Department has expanded its list of individuals who are eligible for a National Interest Exception (NIE) to enter the US. This effectively exempts certain South Africans with specific skills, jobs, and visas from its ongoing travel ban.
The State Department is now permitting more individuals to receive an NIE, which allows them to get an exception to enter the United States despite their presence in countries impacted by regional COVID-19 travel restrictions.
This comes after US President Joe Biden closed the country’s borders to travellers from South Africa due to variants of COVID-19 earlier this year. This resulted in South Africans being restricted from entering various countries.
“But while other countries have only afforded exemptions to returning citizens and permanent residents, the US has continuously updated its NIE list for purposes related to humanitarian travel, public health response, and national security,” the publication writes.
In January 2021, the US Bureau of Consular Affairs announced that H-2A visa holders – defined as non-immigrant certification for temporary workers performing agricultural services – would be included as an NIE as South Africans account for the highest number of H-2A visa holders outside of Mexico.
Now, eligibility has been extended to the following individuals:
ELIGIBILITY EXTENDED TO THE FOLLOWING INDIVIDUALS
- Immigrant and fiancé (K) visa applicants
- Certain exchange visitors (including interns, trainees, teachers, and au pairs) who meet specific, limited criteria
- Pilots and aircrew who are travelling to the US for training or aircraft maintenance, pickup, and delivery
While the above exceptions will allow more persons to travel to the US from impacted countries, the added business and professional exceptions are limited and not applicable to most industries.
The state also determined that travel by certain exchange visitors is in the national interest for purposes of granting exceptions under the geographic COVID presidential proclamations.Therefore, national interest exceptions under these proclamations may be approved for the following categories of travel:
NATIONAL INTEREST EXCEPTIONS FOR CERTAIN EXCHANGE VISITORS
- Au pairs who support children with special needs or children whose parents work in COVID-19 medical care
- Persons travelling to the US as government agency-sponsored exchange visitors, specialised teachers, and those in support of critical foreign policy objectives
- Pilots and aircrew for training or aircraft pickup, delivery or maintenance
“As such, persons physically present in Brazil, China, Iran, Ireland, South Africa, the UK or the Schengen Area must continue to understand the impact of the ban and any visa and entry options to meet their business and personal needs,” writes Mondaq.
“Further, all travellers to the US who are arriving by air must provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of travel. Alternatively, travellers can present documentation proving recovery from a recent COVID-19 infection.”
The State Department also said that it is committed to transparently sharing the current status of their worldwide visa operations and will continue to provide regular updates.