News sources are reporting that, on September 20, Jeff Zients, White House Covid Response Coordinator, announced easing of restrictions on direct entry into the US by fully vaccinated international travelers. Few details are available as of this writing.
The following FAQs address some of the initial questions that are likely to arise as a result of the changes. Please also see our earlier FAQs: International Travel After the US Travel Ban Is Lifted – What Visa Holders Can Expect. Additional FAQs and guidance will be provided as information is released from reputable sources.
What we know: Jeff Zients said changes would take effect in “early November.” Formal announcements are expected from the CDC and the US Department of State in coming days or weeks. Those announcements will likely appear on the Department’s U.S. Visas News website.
Background: The travel restrictions, which were originally established by President Donald Trump and subsequently tightened by President Joe Biden, restrict travel by non-citizens and non-permanent residents who have been physically present in the United Kingdom, Schengen Area, China, India, Iran, Republic of Ireland, Brazil, or South Africa within 14 days preceding entry to the United States. Under the new policy, the US will take an individualized, rather than country-based, approach to assessing health risk posed by travelers.
This will be a relief to international travelers, their friends, family, and employers, and will facilitate more seamless and predictable entry to the US, but there are likely to be many questions about the updated guidance.
1. When exactly does the change take effect?
Answer: Jeff Zientz gave an anticipated effective date in “early November,” but an exact date has not yet been announced or confirmed.
2. Who is affected by the change?
Answer: While details have not yet been announced, the change is expected to affect travelers from China, Iran, the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, South Africa, and India (those countries that are currently affected by travel restrictions). Once the presidential proclamations are lifted, travelers will have to comply with individual guidelines, but will not be subject to sweeping restrictions based on physical presence in one of the affected countries.
3. Will there still be any restrictions on traveling to the US once the changes take effect?
Answer: Probably. It is expected that all foreign travelers will be required to demonstrate proof of full COVID-19 vaccination before boarding their flights, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of flight. Unvaccinated US citizens will likely also need to be tested within a day of their return flights, as well as after they arrive home. Airlines will likely be required to collect information from travelers to facilitate contact tracing, if needed. As always, travelers are cautioned to ensure compliance with employer-specific international travel guidelines, in-country restrictions for all of their destination or transit countries, and airline requirements.
4. Can I travel directly from a restricted country to the US right away, relying on the new guidelines?
Answer: No, not yet. You cannot rely on the new guidelines until after the date they take effect, which has not yet been announced.
5. Can I plan my travel to the US from a banned country right away?
Answer: Once the change is officially confirmed via the government websites listed above, not just by news sources, and once the effective date is announced, you should be able to plan your return trip as long as (1) the travel date is after the effective date of the change; and (2) you have all required documents for travel and entry to ensure compliance with Covid and immigration guidelines. If you are unsure whether you have the necessary documents, please double-check in advance with your Hunton Andrews Kurth immigration contact.
6. I have the necessary visa stamp or ESTA (Visa Waiver) documents and I have already applied for a National Interest Exception. Will I still have to wait for a decision on the NIE before I travel?
Answer: No, once the date and details are confirmed to lift the existing travel bans, you should be permitted to travel directly to the US after the effective date as long as you comply with the new requirements (proof of vaccination, negative COVID test, etc.) and you have all applicable travel documents in hand.
7. Are US citizens affected by these changes or only non-US citizens?
Answer: The changes are likely to impact both citizens and non-citizens because all travelers will be required to demonstrate proof of vaccination against the COVID-19 virus and a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of their US flight. U.S. Citizens who are not vaccinated will be required to be tested within one day of returning to the US and after they arrive. It is unclear at this time whether unvaccinated citizens will also be required to quarantine upon arrival.
8. Do I need to have proof of vaccination to take advantage of the new travel guidelines?
Answer: Probably. Although details have not yet been announced, it is expected that non‑citizens will be required to present proof of vaccination before traveling to the US.
9. What will be considered acceptable proof of vaccination?
Answer: Again, details have not yet been provided. As it currently stands, you should expect to be required to present a physical document showing your COVID-19 vaccination record. At a minimum, the document should include which vaccine(s) you received, the date(s) you received them, and where you received them. Continue to monitor the official government websites provided above for further details. In the meantime, be wary of “vaccine passport” scams and confirm any updated guidelines as you approach your travel date to ensure you have the right documents.
10. How long before my trip do I have to have the vaccine? Does it matter if I only had one?
Answer: The guidance has not yet been confirmed. However, travelers will likely be required to be “fully vaccinated.” In general, people are considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks (14 days) after their second dose in a 2-dose vaccine series (such as Pfizer or Moderna), or 2 weeks (14 days) after a single dose in a single-dose vaccine series (such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine).
11. When I get to the US, do I have to take another COVID test?
Answer: Probably not. It does not appear that fully vaccinated travelers who present a negative test before arriving will be required to test again upon arrival in the US. Travelers should confirm details before traveling.
12. How do these changes impact driving to the US from Canada or Mexico?
Answer: There is no immediate change to the land border policies.
13. The visa stamp in my passport is expired and I am outside the US. Will these changes help me get back more quickly?
Answer: Probably not. There is no indication this guidance will affect operations at US embassies and consulates. If you require a visa stamp, you will still need a visa appointment. This lifting of travel restrictions does not impact guidelines currently in place at each US consular post. Please keep in mind that many consulates are still operating at limited capacity or for emergency appointments only. Once you have the necessary visa and travel documents, the new travel guidance will help you travel directly from other countries to the US as long as all other applicable travel requirements and guidelines are met.
14. Will this allow me to come to the US just for vacation or to visit friends and family?
Answer: Probably. As long as you meet all guidelines and have all required documents, you should be permitted to travel to the US for any purpose, business or personal.