COVID-19 Travel Bans: Exceptions and National Interest Designations for Critical Infrastructure Workers


We kick off the start of a brand-new week with some important information for immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants residing in regions currently affected by the four geographic Presidential Proclamations still in place, for non-citizens in the Schengen countries, the United Kingdom, China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, and India.

The Presidential Proclamations, collectively known as the COVID-19 Geographic Proclamations are as follows:

  • Presidential Proclamation 10143 (Schengen Area, United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil and South Africa)
  • Presidential Proclamation 9984 (China)
  • Presidential Proclamation 9992 (Iran)
  • Presidential Proclamation 10199 (India)

*The Schengen countries include Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

The COVID-19 Proclamations were issued early on during the pandemic to help contain the rapid spread of the Coronavirus in the United States, by limiting the entry to the United States, of non-citizen travelers who were physically present in any of the impacted regions during the 14-day period, prior to their planned entry or attempted entry to the United States.

To comply with these Proclamations, U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide have been unable to issue nonimmigrant and immigrant visas to those who have been physically present in any of the above mentioned 33 covered countries. But all of that has recently changed thanks to new National Interest Exception designations made by the Secretary of State for certain types of travelers.

These National Interest Exceptions were made in addition to the exceptions that were already carved out in the Presidential Proclamations for:

  • U.S. citizens;
  • lawful permanent residents;
  • spouses and children of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents;
  • parents or legal guardians of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident unmarried minor child;
  • siblings of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident child, provided both are unmarried and under the age of 21;
  • air and sea crewmembers;
  • U.S. noncitizen nationals (not applicable to Proclamations 9984 (China) and 9992(Iran));
  • diplomats;
  • any noncitizen who is a member of the U.S. Armed Forces and any noncitizen who is a spouse or child of a member of the U.S. Armed Forces;
  • travelers for the purpose of the containment or mitigation of COVID-19; and
  • those whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their designees.

Who can benefit from these new National Interest Exceptions?

The Secretary of State has determined that the entry of the following travelers is in the National Interest for purposes of exceptions to all four proclamations. As time goes on, the Secretary will likely continue to add new designations and recognize new groups of people who may seek an exemption from the Proclamation and obtain entry to the United States

The NEW National Interest Designations

*Notice that immigrants visa applicants and K-1 fiancé(e) visa applicants are no longer impacted by the COVID-19 proclamations, and instead must be prioritized for interview visa scheduling by Embassies and Consulates worldwide

  • immigrants of all categories (not applicable to Proclamation 10199, which only covers nonimmigrant travel);
  • fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens and their dependents (K visas);
  • certain exchange visitors as detailed within this article;
  • students (F, M, and certain J visas) as described here.  New or returning students present in China, Brazil, Iran, South Africa, or India may arrive no earlier than 30 days before the start of an academic program beginning August 1, 2021, or after, including optional practical training (OPT);
  • academics (certain J visas to include those in the professor, research scholar, short-term scholar, or specialist categories);
  • journalists (I visas);
  • travelers providing executive direction or vital support for critical infrastructure sectors, or directly linked supply chains, as outlined at;
  • travelers providing vital support or executive direction for significant economic activity in the United States
  • pilots and aircrew traveling for training or aircraft pickup, delivery, or maintenance;
  • those whose purpose of travel falls within one of these categories:
    • lifesaving medical treatment for the principal applicant and accompanying close family members
    • public health for those travelling to alleviate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, or to continue ongoing research in an area with substantial public health benefit (e.g., cancer or communicable disease research)
    • humanitarian travel, to include those providing care for a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident, or other nonimmigrant-in-lawful-status close family member
    • medical escorts, legal guardians, or other escorts required by an airline or legally required by a foreign medical or law enforcement entity accompanying a U.S. citizen being repatriated to the United States;
    • national security; and
    • derivative family members accompanying or following to join a noncitizen who has been granted or would be reasonably expected to receive a National Interest Exception (NIE), or is not otherwise subject to the Proclamations and who is engaging in certain types of long-term employment, studies, or research lasting four weeks or more.

Critical Infrastructure Workers

Among the newest and most interesting National Interest designations is that of Critical Infrastructure Workers, but what exactly does this mean and who qualifies?

The government defines Critical Infrastructure Workers as workers who conduct a wide range of operations and services that are typically “essential to continued critical infrastructure viability, including [but not limited to] staffing operations centers, maintaining and repairing critical infrastructure, operating call centers, working construction, and performing operational functions.”

Who will benefit?

Foreign nationals in the impacted regions who will work for U.S. employers or businesses within these industries (such as nonimmigrant workers) may take advantage of this designation, given the wide range of industries that are considered “Critical Infrastructure” sectors. In addition, investors and small business owners applying under the E visa category may qualify if their U.S. businesses will operate under the auspices of any of these qualifying sectors.

What are the sectors recognized as Critical?

Thankfully we don’t have to guess what industries will qualify as “Critical Infrastructure,” sectors because the 16 sectors have been specifically enumerated in the Presidential Policy Directive 21 (PPD -21) and have also been recommended by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency as comprising the “Critical Infrastructure” industry.

According to the Directive, the following 16 infrastructure sectors are those whose, “assets, systems, and networks, whether physical or virtual, are considered so vital to the United States, that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof,” thereby making the entry of workers in these industries in the National Interest of the United States.

What are the 16 Critical Infrastructure Sectors?

These sectors include the:

What type of workers within these industries may qualify?

There are a wide range of workers that may be recognized across the industry as Critical Infrastructure Workers. As stated above, foreign nationals within the affected regions, who are applying for a nonimmigrant visa classification to work for an employer or business in a critical infrastructure occupation may be eligible to seek this National Interest designation. In addition, business owners or employees seeking to invest in or work in a Critical Infrastructure sector may be eligible. Below are just a few examples of different occupations that may qualify for the Critical Infrastructure Worker designation.

Food and Agriculture Industry

As an example, workers in the Food and Agriculture industry, supporting groceries, pharmacies, convenience stores, and other retail (including unattended and vending) that sell human food, animal and pet food and pet supply, and beverage products, including retail customer support service and information technology support staff necessary for online orders, pickup, and delivery, food manufacturing workers, farmers, farm, and ranch workers, those supporting the distribution of food, feed, and beverage and ingredients used in these products, including warehouse workers, animal agriculture workers, and more may qualify for the designation.

Transportation and Logistics

Similarly, workers supporting or enabling transportation and logistics functions, including truck drivers, bus drivers, dispatchers, maintenance and repair technicians, warehouse workers, truck stop and rest area workers, driver training and education centers, and workers that construct, maintain, rehabilitate, and inspect infrastructure may qualify.

Workers supporting the operation of essential highway infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and tunnels (e.g., traffic operations centers and moveable bridge operators) are clearly within those considered critical in the industry.

In addition to workers of firms providing services, supplies, and equipment that enable warehouse and operations, including cooling, storing, packaging, and distributing products for wholesale or retail sale or use, including cold- and frozen-chain logistics for food and critical biologic products.

Information Technology

Among those recognized as critical within the IT industry are workers who support command centers, including, but not limited to, Network Operations Command Centers, Broadcast Operations Control Centers, and Security Operations Command Centers.

Data center operators, including system administrators, HVAC and electrical engineers, security personnel, IT managers and purchasers, data transfer solutions engineers, software and hardware engineers, and database administrators for all industries, including financial services.

Workers who support client service centers, field engineers, and other technicians and workers supporting critical infrastructure, as well as manufacturers and supply chain vendors that provide hardware and software, support services, research and development, information technology equipment (to include microelectronics and semiconductors), are also among those recognized as critical industry workers.

Financial Services

Finally, workers in the financial sector are also recognized as Critical Infrastructure workers, including workers who are needed to provide, process, and maintain systems for processing, verification, and recording of financial transactions and services, including payment, clearing, and settlement; wholesale funding; insurance services; consumer and commercial lending; public accounting; and capital markets activities.

Those who provide business, commercial, and consumer access to bank and non-bank financial services and lending services are also among those recognized.

These are just a few examples to illustrate the types of workers who may qualify. In reality, there are many more that could be eligible for this National Interest designation.

Would you like to know if you qualify? 

If you are interested in applying for a National Interest designation as a Critical Infrastructure worker or any of the other designated categories, we invite you to schedule a consultation to discuss your options. We have successfully processed National Interest exception cases at dozens of Consulates and Embassies around the world. For more information about the National Interest exceptions please check out our helpful links section below.

Contact us today?  If you would like to schedule a consultation, please text 619-483-4549 or call 619-819-9204.

Helpful Links


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