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New Details on Vaccination, Testing Requirements for International Air Travel to the U.S.
BMK Group

The Biden administration announced new details about COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirements and other rules surrounding the implementation of the United States’ new international air travel policy, which takes effect November 8, 2021.

Vaccinations Required for Foreign National Travelers

The new policy, which replaces geographic travel bans that had been implemented early in the pandemic, requires that non-citizen, non-immigrant adult air travelers to the United States be fully vaccinated with an approved COVID-19 vaccine and that they provide proof of their vaccination status prior to boarding a plane to the United States. Limited exceptions will be made to the vaccine requirement. New details were announced about these exceptions, as well as about COVID-19 testing requirements; acceptable vaccines and forms of proof; and the airlines’ role in implementing the policy. The new vaccine requirements do not prohibit visa issuance at a U.S. consulate and will not apply to land border travel.

Exceptions to Vaccination Requirements

The requirement to show proof of vaccination does not apply to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and, with exceptions, individuals who are applying to enter the U.S. as immigrants. Air crew members are also exempted from the policy.

Among non-citizen, non-immigrant travelers, limited exceptions to the vaccine requirement will be made, including for children under age 18; participants in approved COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials who meet certain specified criteria and have appropriate documentation; individuals with a doctor’s letter indicating they have medical contraindications to the vaccines, such as an allergy to a component; and citizens of 50 countries with limited vaccine availability – which are defined as having vaccination rates below 10 percent – and who are traveling with valid visas excluding B-1 (business) or B-2 (tourism) visas. Individuals traveling for humanitarian reasons with a U.S. government-issued letter affirming the urgent need to travel will also be excused from the vaccination requirement.  

Testing Requirements

All travelers, regardless of vaccination status or citizenship, will need to show results of a negative COVID-19 test (or documentation of recent recovery from COVID-19) before boarding a U.S.-bound plane. Both nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs), such as a PCR test, and antigen tests are acceptable. 

Currently, all travelers boarding a plane for the U.S. must present a negative result from a COVID-19 test taken within three days of the flight. This three-day window will continue for vaccinated travelers, but beginning November 8, all unvaccinated travelers age two and older will need to have their test taken within one day of traveling. The same applies to those who are exempt from the vaccination requirement but who cannot present proof that they are fully vaccinated.

Children under age two are excused from testing, and unvaccinated children ages two to 17 who are traveling with a fully vaccinated adult can have their test taken three days prior to departure, consistent with the vaccinated adult testing requirements. 

In lieu of a negative test, travelers can present proof of recent recovery from COVID-19, which must include a positive COVID-19 test result taken no more than 90 days before the flight and a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or public health official clearing them for travel.  

Acceptable Vaccines

All vaccines that are approved or authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization are acceptable. The list includes Janssen/Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Covishield, BIBP/Sinopharm, and Sinovac. 

Individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after one dose of Johnson & Johnson or two weeks after the second dose of one of the other vaccines, which are all considered two-dose series. The series must be completed a full 14 days before the flight; for instance, if you get your second dose on Nov. 1, you will be eligible to travel on Nov. 15. It is acceptable to “mix and match” the two doses and get shots of two different accepted vaccines, which must be administered at least 17 days apart.

Forms of Proof 

Proof of vaccination includes verifiable sources such as vaccination certificates with a QR code and digital passes via Smartphone application with a QR code, in which the QR code links to information certifying the vaccine is official. Examples of verifiable sources include the United Kingdom National Health Service COVID Pass or European Union Digital COVID Certificate. Non-verifiable vaccination records issued at the national or subnational level or by authorized vaccine providers are also acceptable; these include the CDC vaccination card, a digital photo of the CDC card, a mobile phone application without a QR code, and a downloaded vaccine record or vaccination certificate from an official source.

All forms of proof must contain the name of the official source issuing the record, as well as the full name and date of birth of the individual, and the name of the vaccine manufacturer and dates of vaccination. 

Airline Responsibilities

Airlines will be required to match the name and date of birth on the vaccination record with the passenger’s passport and travel documents to verify it’s the same person. The airline will also be charged with determining if the record was issued by an official source, such as a public health or government agency, in the country where the vaccination was given and verify that the vaccine manufacturer and dates meet requirements.

The U.S. government has also directed airlines to collect and retain contact information on passengers, regardless of vaccination status, to assist with contract tracing if necessary.

Additional info may be reviewed at respective Department of State and Centers for Disease Control websites:

Department of State – https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/emergencies/covid-19-faqs-for-travel-to-the-us-information.html

Centers for Disease Control – https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/noncitizens-US-air-travel.html

Barst Mukamal & Kleiner is one of the longest-running immigration law firms in the U.S. If you have questions about the COVID-19 travel restrictions or the new international travel policy, contact a Barst attorney today at https://bmkllp.com/contact-us/

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