At some point this year, we expect that the United States will lift the travel ban that includes all of the Schengen countries, the United Kingdom, China, and others. While there have been many rumors about when this will happen, the US government remains silent.
When the United States lifts the travel ban, US visa holders in the United States will have many questions about whether they can travel abroad, when they can return, and what impediments they may face. The following FAQs address these questions. We will update them as needed.
1. When the United States lifts the travel ban, will I still need a National Interest Exception?
Answer: No. If the travel ban is completely lifted and no other restrictions are put in its place, travel will return to pre-pandemic “normal.” In other words, you will not require any special advance permission to fly directly to the United States from countries that were previously under the travel ban. You will also not need to show that you are exempt because you have an immediate relative (spouse or child) who is a US citizen.
2. When the United States lifts the travel ban, will I need a Covid vaccination to return after international travel?
Answer: Possibly. The travel ban may be lifted in phases, allowing first for travel of vaccinated individuals.
3. When the United States lifts the travel ban, will I need a negative Covid test to return after international travel?
Answer: Possibly. That will be up to the CDC. As of early June 2021, a negative Covid test is required for all US-bound air passengers 2 years of age or older, regardless of where they are flying from. If the CDC decides to change this rule, it will be announced on the CDC website.
4. When the United States lifts the travel ban, can I leave the United States and travel to my home country to see my family and friends?
Answer: As a US visa holder, you are always free to leave. The issue is when you can return, which may depend on whether you require a US visa in your passport that only US consulates can issue. (See below.)
5. Will I need a US visa in my passport in order to return to the United States to resume my current nonimmigrant visa status?
Answer: Except for Canadian passport holders (other than E visa holders), every employment-based nonimmigrant visa holder must have a valid, unexpired visa in their passport that matches their work-authorized status, as indicated on their USCIS approval notice (Forms I-797 or I-129S) in order to return to the United States. Family members holding dependent status must also have valid, unexpired visas in their passports to return to the United States.
6. My current visa is unexpired and is in the same category as my approval notice. Will I need a new visa to return to the United States after travel abroad?
Answer: As long as you return with your unexpired, valid visa and your approval notice before either expire, US Customs should admit you in the same visa status through the end date listed on the approval notice. For example, if you have in your passport an unexpired H‑1B visa that references a prior employer’s name and your most recent H-1B approval notice is for a new employer with a longer expiration date than listed on the visa, the two documents together will allow a US Customs officer to admit you in H-1B status. The visa and the approval notice must be in the same visa classification, however.
7. My current visa has expired, but I have an approval notice extending my status in the same visa classification. Do I need a new visa to return to the United States?
Answer: Yes, you will need to use the new approval notice to obtain a new visa at a US consulate abroad. Your family members will need new dependent visas as well.
8. The visa I used to enter the United States is in a different visa classification than the approval notice my employer obtained for me, which changed my visa classification. Do I need a new visa in order to return to the United States?
Answer: If the USCIS changed your status after you arrived in the United States, you will need a new visa in your passport in the same visa classification listed on the new approval notice. For example, if you entered using an F‑1 student visa, and then a US company filed an H-1B change of status petition for you and approved by USCIS, you will need an H-1B visa in your passport to return following travel abroad. Your family members will need new dependent visas as well.
9. I heard that if the USCIS extended my status and/or changed my status to a new visa classification, I can travel to Canada or Mexico and back without getting a new visa in my passport. Is this true?
Answer: Yes, it is true, but only if you are visiting either of those countries for 30 days or less, you do not apply for a US visa while there, and you do not travel to another country in between departing from and returning to the United States. This process is the “automatic revalidation of visa at port of entry”. You should consult with an attorney before using this provision of law to make sure that it is still available when you plan to return and that you have the necessary documentation to return after your short trip.
10. I heard that scheduling visa appointments at US consulates has been very difficult during the pandemic and while the travel ban has been in place. Once the United States lifts the travel ban, will it be easier to schedule visa appointments abroad?
Answer: Possibly, but probably not immediately. We expect lingering backlogs in visa appointments. While we do expect that US consulates will return to pre-COVID appointment scheduling, we do not expect it to happen very quickly. When the United States lifts the travel ban, the consulates may not be operating at full staff. Even those that will be fully staffed will not likely return immediately to pre-COVID scheduling, as there is still a risk of COVID transmission in many countries. As the vaccine rollout becomes more widespread, US consulates are likely to make more appointments available. For countries with rising COVID cases, appointments will remain hard to secure. At this time, most US consulates are only scheduling emergency appointments, and those scheduling regular appointments are doing so for late 2021 and early- to mid-2022.
11. I have a visa appointment scheduled for early 2022. If the consulate opens up more appointments, will my appointment be moved to an earlier date?
Answer: It may depend on the specific consulate whether it will automatically move appointments to earlier dates, or whether it falls on the applicant to reschedule. It is advisable to check the consulate’s website often to see if earlier appointments become available. This may require checking daily.
12. What are the chances that I can secure an emergency appointment to obtain my visa?
ANSWER: Low. At this time, US consulates are inundated with emergency appointment requests, most of which are denied. Unless the emergency rises to a life-or-death situation, you can assume that you will not get one. However, there is no harm in making the request.
13. Can I apply for a US visa at a US consulate in a country other than my home country?
ANSWER: Probably not. Because visa appointments are difficult to schedule, most US consulates are not entertaining visa applications from third-country nationals and are only granting visa appointments to local citizens or long-term residents.
14. Can I renew my visa while I am in the United States?
ANSWER: Unfortunately no. The ability to apply to the State Department for “visa revalidation” ended after the tragic events of 9/11/2001. Therefore, you must apply at a US consulate abroad. There are rumors that the US may reinstate visa revalidation in the United States at some point to relieve the backlogs at US consulates, but we do not know if or when this could become a reality.
15. I have an unexpired B-1/B-2 visitor’s visa in my passport. Can I use it to return to the United States to continue my employment?
ANSWER: No. You cannot use a B-1/B-2 visa (or any other nonimmigrant visa not related to your work-authorized approval notice) to enter the United States for employment. Doing so would be visa and immigration fraud, and your US employer would be at risk for employing you when not authorized to do so. You also should not use it to enter the United States intending to have your employer re-sponsor you for a work-authorized change of status, as you cannot enter as a visitor with the intention of changing status after arrival.
16. I have an unexpired ESTA (Visa Waiver) registration (or can obtain the registration). Can I use it to return to the United States to continue my employment?
ANSWER: No. You cannot use ESTA to enter the United States for employment. Doing so would be visa and immigration fraud, and your US employer would be at risk for employing you when not authorized to do so. You also cannot apply to extend your ESTA visit or to change to a new status while you are in the United States.
17. Can I ask for Congressional assistance to schedule a visa appointment?
ANSWER: You can certainly reach out to your member of Congress for such assistance; however, it is unlikely that you will be successful, as Congressional offices are inundated with such requests. If you have compelling facts, it may help, but unless you have a life-or-death situation, Congressional assistance is not likely to help.
18. If I depart the United States and cannot get a new visa, can I work from abroad until I can obtain the new visa to return to the United States?
ANSWER: It depends on your company’s policies. Your employer may not allow you to perform your US position from abroad, as it may raise tax or other legal issues. This is something you should discuss with your manager, human resources, and/or your global mobility department before making plans to depart.