For the foreseeable future, NIE’s (National Interest Exemptions) may be the only way business travelers can make it to the US. And countries like the United States will continue to enforce visa bans as long as COVID-19 threatens global public health.
For those unaware, an NIE is an application with the US consulate. It grants individuals, considered to be in the nation’s interest, special exemption to visa bans. In this post, I will cover all the bans and update you on the NIE application process.
Why The United States Enacted a Regional Travel Ban in Response to COVID-19
We all remember the early days of the pandemic last winter when reports of thousands of people in China were becoming ill and dying because of a new “Coronavirus.” Before we knew it, the virus had spread to Europe, and the hospitals in Italy and other countries were beyond capacity.
As the virus circled the world, the US reacted by banning direct travel from certain countries to the US. These countries include China, the United Kingdom, Ireland, the 26 countries that make up the Schengen region of Europe, Iran, and Brazil. This “regional” ban prohibits travel from these specific areas for all individuals who have been in the specified countries in the preceding 14 days.
The administration also banned the issuance of employment-based Immigrant visas at US Consular posts. Also, it banned the issuance of H-1B, L-1, and most J-1 visas at US Consulates unless there were compelling circumstances in the National Interest. These bans are currently scheduled to expire on 12/31/2020 but could possibly be extended.
Additional Changes for H-1B Workers and Employers
In October, the administration promulgated a rule that raised the Prevailing Wages required for H-1B workers and employers processing permanent residence applications for employees based on the “PERM” program. These wage increases were so significant that they would have precluded most employers from using the H-1B program without a time-consuming and costly process of consulting with private surveys. At the same time, another rule was created which would nearly eliminate the H-1B program by changing the definition of an H-1B occupation from an occupation where a specific degree is “normal or common” to an occupation where a specific degree is “always” required. US employers who rely in these programs were relieved in early December when a federal court enjoined the implementation of these rules.
Updates to The National Interest Exemptions Application Process
In the last several months, numerous business people and employers have applied for an obtained National Interest Exemptions or “NIEs” to allow travel to the US, in spite of the various travel bans. These exemptions are processed either at the US Consulate abroad or in some cases by US Customs and Border Protection “CBP” at US airports.
Exceptions were put into place for US Citizens and residents and their families and those who could prove that their entry would be in the US “National Interest.” These travel bans are still in place; however, it has been reported that the administration is considering lifting them for some countries.
Due to the pandemic, visa-issuing consular posts were closed and allowed appointments only for the most critical and urgent cases and those deemed to be in the National Interest. Since summer, visa services have resumed at some US consular posts depending on the COVID Pandemic status in the region. For example, currently, the consulates in Thailand, Singapore, Australia, and Japan are operating nearly normally. In contrast, consulates in China, India, South Africa, and the United Kingdom are either closed or allowing only emergency appointments.
The Future of Immigration Moving Forward
Though the COVID Pandemic continues to be very serious in many parts of the world, with the prospect of vaccinations and a change toward a more immigrant-friendly administration, it will likely lead to greater opportunities for global mobility relocation to the US in 2021 and beyond.