DOS Update: Entry of F-1, M-1, Certain Exchange Academics, Journalists, and Critical Infrastructure Workers, in the National Interest Despite COVID-19 Regional Presidential Proclamations


In today’s blog post, we are happy to bring our readers some very exciting news.

On April 26, 2021, the Department of State formally announced a new National Interest Determination for certain categories of nonimmigrant visa applicants currently unable to enter the United States due to COVID-19 related Regional Presidential Proclamations issued earlier this year. This new determination will allow certain travelers to obtain their visas and enter the United States, despite the issuance of COVID-19 related Regional Presidential Proclamations, known as Presidential Proclamations 9984, 9992, and 10143.

These Proclamations were issued early last year to prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19 to the United States, specifically from China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the Schengen countries, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.

Such Proclamations had the effect of restricting and suspending the entry into the United States, of both immigrants and nonimmigrants, who were physically present within the Schengen Area, Brazil, China, the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, and Iran, during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States. Few categories of individuals were exempted from these Presidential Proclamations, including lawful permanent residents of the United States (green card holders), spouses of U.S. Citizens or lawful permanent residents, and others who were similarly exempted.

Individuals who have not been specifically exempted from the Regional Proclamations and have remained physically present in the impacted regions, have been unable to proceed with visa processing. Consulates worldwide have refused to grant visas to these individuals due to the enforcement of the Proclamations.

Categories of Travelers Eligible for a National Interest Exception Despite COVID-19 Regional Presidential Proclamations

The Secretary of State has now declared that the following classes of individuals physically present in China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the Schengen countries, the United Kingdom, and Ireland may now qualify for a National Interest Exception (NIE) to continue with visa processing and enter the United States:

  • F-1 and M-1 Students only if their academic program begins August 1, 2021 or later;
  • Journalists;
  • Certain academics covered by certain exchange visitor programs only if their academic program begins August 1, 2021 or later and;
  • Those seeking to provide vital support for critical infrastructure;

According to the Department of State’s announcement, such qualified travelers who are applying for or have valid visas or ESTA authorization may travel to the United States following the procedures below, even as PPs 9984, 9992, and 10143 remain in effect.

Special Provisions for F-1 and M-1 Visa Holders Beginning or Continuing their Academic Program August 1, 2021 or Later

Students with valid F-1 and M-1 visas intending to begin or continue an academic program commencing August 1, 2021 or later do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual NIE to travel.  Such students may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the start of their academic studies.

Students seeking to apply for new F-1 or M-1 visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest Embassy or Consulate. Those applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for a National Interest Exception to travel and do not need to go through a separate process to request a National Interest Exception.

In addition, travelers in the categories in the bullet points listed above, who have a valid visa in the appropriate class, or who have a valid ESTA authorization for travel under the Visa Waiver Program and seek to travel for purposes consistent with ESTA authorization, should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate before traveling, if they believe they may qualify for a National Interest Exception.  If a National Interest Exception is approved, they may travel on either a valid visa or ESTA authorization, as appropriate.

Does this mean that I will be able to obtain an interview appointment at my local Consulate/Embassy overseas?

Possibly. As our readers are aware, the majority of U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide have not fully resumed routine visa processing operations and are operating at a limited capacity. Visa services and operations at each Consular post therefore vary on a post-by-post basis. Certain posts have been unable to schedule visa interview appointments due to COVID-19 related constraints such as local country conditions, mandatory quarantine restrictions, staff shortages, and lack of resources.

Applicants must check the website of their Embassy/Consular post to determine what services are being offered, and appointment availability. The majority of Embassies and Consulates may be contacted by email to determine visa appointment availability.

To expedite the process you may consider obtaining the guidance and assistance of an attorney who can help navigate the process for you.

What about other travelers? Can they request a National Interest Exception to Enter?

The Department of State has said that it continues to grant National Interest Exceptions for qualified travelers seeking to enter the United States for purposes related to humanitarian travel, public health response, and national security.  These travelers and any others who believe their travel to be in the United States’ national interest should also review the website of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for instructions on how to contact the Embassy or Consulate.

What are the requirements for the National Interest Exception?

As a general matter, one may receive a National Interest Exception:

(1) as a public health or healthcare professional or researcher 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 disease research);  OR

(2) to provide care for a U.S. citizen, including alleviating the burden of care from a medical or other institution, or to prevent a U.S. citizen from becoming a public charge or ward of the state or the ward of a medical or other institution; OR

(3) to join an active military member petitioner in the U.S. OR

(4) for purposes relating to humanitarian travel, or national security.

If you would like to schedule a consultation to discuss your options regarding visa interview scheduling or qualification for the National Interest Exception, please contact us by calling 619-819-9204 or toll free at 866-488-1554. Our attorneys have successfully obtained National Interest Exceptions for different types of immigrants and nonimmigrants at Embassies and Consulates worldwide.

For even more information about the resumption of visa services at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad please click here.

Do you qualify for an NIE? If you would like to schedule a consultation, please text 619-483-4549 or call 619-819-9204.

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For other COVID 19 related immigration updates please visit our Immigration and COVID-19 Resource Center here.