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U.S. To Rescind COVID-19 Travel Bans, Require Vaccinations for International Travelers
BMK Group

The Biden administration announced plans yesterday to rescind COVID-19 related geographic travel bans and instead require all international travelers to show proof of vaccination to enter the United States. The new policy is set to take effect on November 8.

Major Policy Shift

Early in the pandemic, the U.S. government began implementing travel restrictions to limit entry to the U.S. from countries with significant COVID-19 outbreaks. The geographic bans currently apply to Schengen Area countries, the United Kingdom, Ireland, China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa and India. 

The new policy will impact air travel to the United States from all countries. All adult foreign nationals will have to show proof that they have been fully vaccinated with an approved COVID-19 vaccine as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of boarding their flight to the U.S. 

Very limited exceptions to the vaccination requirement will be made, such as for children not yet eligible for vaccination and COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial participants. Humanitarian exceptions may also be made for those foreign nationals who have a compelling and urgent reason to travel but lack timely access to a vaccination.  Foreign nationals who are exempted from vaccine requirement may be required to get vaccinated upon arrival in the United States.

How Easing the Restrictions Will Impact Travelers

The September 20, 2021, announcement, which came on the eve of President Biden’s address to the United Nations General Assembly, is welcome news to those who have been subject to the travel restrictions. While U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and certain other individuals are exempt from the current bans, these restrictions have created significant challenges for others who wish to enter the United States after being present in one of the impacted countries during any preceding 14-day period. Non-exempt individuals have had to either apply and qualify for a national interest exception (NIE) or break the chain of travel by spending at least 14 days in a non-impacted country before entering the United States.

The policy shift does not impact current COVID-19-related restrictions for nonessential travel across the land borders with Canada and Mexico, which have been extended until October 21, 2021. 

New Vaccination and Testing Policies

Under the new policy, all adult foreign nationals will be required to show proof of vaccination with an approved vaccine in addition to a negative test taken within three days before boarding a U.S.-bound flight. American citizens and permanent residents who are not fully vaccinated will continue to be permitted to fly back to the United States. However, with the new policy, all unvaccinated travelers must show proof of a negative test taken within one day of departure as well as proof of purchase of a viral test to be taken after arrival.  

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will also issue a Contact Tracing Order requiring airlines to collect contact information for all in-bound passengers and provide this information upon request so that the CDC may follow up with travelers who have been exposed to COVID-19.

Additionally, the current mask mandate for air travel has been extended through January 18, 2022. 

More Details to Follow

The administration said it was delaying implementation of the new policy until early November to allow time for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Department of State (DOS) to develop the directives and processes needed to implement these changes with the airlines and through consular offices as well as time for the CDC to update testing and contact tracing procedures. 

More details will be announced, such as which vaccinations and types of proof are acceptable, in the coming weeks. 

Barst Mukamal & Kleiner is one of the longest-running immigration law firms in the U.S. Clients should contact their Barst attorney if they have any questions about the COVID-19 travel bans or the new international travel policy. For general inquiries or to set up a consultation, please visit https://bmkllp.com/contact-us/

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