The National Interest Exception (NIE) travel authorization landscape continues to evolve.
As a recap, soon after the Covid-19 pandemic began, the United States prohibited travel from certain countries. Unless exempt from the ban, persons who have been present in a restricted country in the 14 days before intending to travel to the United States either must obtain an NIE travel authorization or spend 14 days in unrestricted country. In the early days of the pandemic, U.S. Customs and Border Protection accepted NIE requests. The procedure now requires making the request to the U.S. consulate or embassy where you are residing.
The following notes the currently restricted countries, duration of the restrictions, persons who are exempt from the restriction, basic requirements for NIE requests, and reminders for travel.
The affected countries are Brazil, China, India, South Africa, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the Schengen Area (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.) Please note the person’s country of citizenship is not relevant. It’s a person’s presence in one of those countries that triggers the travel ban.
The presidential proclamation itself does not have any end date. The president therefore will need to issue a second announcement to end the ban.
The travel ban does not apply to:
1. U.S. citizens
2. U.S. lawful permanent residents (green card holders), i.e. someone who already has a green card or is applying for an immigrant visa (green card) at the U.S. embassy or consulate.
3. Spouses of U.S. citizens or permanent residents
4. Parents or legal guardians of U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are unmarried and under age 21
5. Siblings of U.S. citizens or permanent residents if both are unmarried and under age 21
6. Children, foster children or wards of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, or children to be adopted
7. Anyone traveling at the invitation of the U.S. government to support efforts to address the virus pandemic
8. Crew members
10. Members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their spouses and children
Basic Requirements for NIE Requests
The one thing that has been consistent since the NIE travel authorizations began has been the ever changing policies and procedures. Although the U.S. State Department established the general framework for NIE requests, each U.S. consulate or embassy interprets the framework and has its own procedure. Some key pointers include the following:
1. Review the specific procedure for the consulate or embassy where you are submitting your NIE request.
2. You must be a citizen or resident of the country where you are applying, and you must be physically in the country when you make the request.
3. Now that NIEs are valid for one year, some consulates no longer require you to submit your NIE request within 30 days of your intended travel.
4. Some consulates have an “NIE Navigator” on their websites, which requires you to answer questions and then instructs you on how to make your request.
5. Keep in mind that to qualify for an NIE, you need to demonstrate the need to be present in the United States. Examples that qualify are technicians installing or repairing a machine or “executives and senior-level employees providing strategy and direction to U.S. and foreign firms with a substantial investment in the United States.” Attending a sales conference or visiting a customer most likely would not qualify for an NIE.
Reminders for NIE-approved Travelers
With NIE travel authorizations now valid for one year, keep in mind two key points:
1. Review the NIE approval message (normally an email) carefully to determine the end date for your travel. Some NIEs simply say they are valid for 12 months. Others provide a certain end date, which means you must travel on or before that date. If the NIE simply says 12 months, you have one year to travel, e.g. an NIE approved on August 1, 2021 allows you to board a plane to the U.S. July 31, 2022 at the latest.
2. The one-year NIE approval is valid for travel only for the same purpose for which you requested the NIE. For example, if the consulate approves an NIE for you to install or repair a machine, you cannot use the NIE to travel to the U.S. for vacation or any other purpose.
As long as the pandemic continues, we have to expect that travel restrictions will continue. Making NIEs valid for one year is a welcome improvement that facilitates trade and investment. Let’s just hope that we’re not still talking about NIEs one year from now.