When the President issued a national state of emergency, one of the first steps he took was closing the borders and limiting the list of people who could enter the U.S. to U.S. citizens, green card holders, diplomats, and crew members. Based on various proclamations, he then barred people residing in certain countries from coming directly to the U.S. from China, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, and all the Schengen Area countries (All contiguous E.U. nations).

This means that people residing in those countries could not travel directly to the U.S. and if they needed to enter, would have to travel to non-barred countries and quarantine for 14 days before entering the U.S. SMA has had clients do this by traveling through Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean, but at a great expense. Sending a team of employees to Mexico may sound great to them but it was not very efficient financially.

Luckily, in mid-July, the government announced the National Interest Exception. This exception, if granted, allows certain visa holders and ESTA travelers to resume traveling to the United States if, as determined by a Consular Officer, they qualify as a National Interest Exception (NIE) to President Trump’s March 11, 2020, Presidential Proclamation that suspended routine travel directly from the countries mentioned above.. Those traveling as students (F1 and M1), researchers (certain J1 programs), investors (E2), or business travel (B1) may be eligible for the exception, as well as ESTA holders traveling on business.

This also applies to people who are currently in the U.S. on these visas or have active ESTA. In order to apply, they must wait to leave the U.S. to be eligible. Each request must be emailed to a specific email address for each embassy or consulate and clearly establish which exception applies and why it is in the U.S.’s national interest to grant it. The exceptions are for one entry only and must be used within thirty days. Subsequent entries must be applied for separately.

Since this is a new process, it is important that people work with U.S. immigration attorneys specialized in consular processing, who understand how each Embassy or Consulate works and what their specific procedures are, in order to maximize their chances of success. Please contact us if you have any questions about this process.