On November 26, 2021, the Biden administration issued a proclamation that bans travel to the U.S. for individuals who have been present in a number of countries in southern Africa within the past 14 days. The travel ban takes effect on Monday, November 29 at 12:01 am ET. With some exceptions, individuals who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents are subject to the travel ban, which prevents most entry to the U.S. for those who have been physically present in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

This ban was enacted in response to the “Omicron” B.1.1.529 COVID-19 variant, based on guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding increased risk of reinfection from this variant and the increased number of cases in South Africa.

The following travelers are not subject to the ban, but are required to comply with current requirements for entry into the United States as described in our Travel Update:

  • U.S. citizens;
  • U.S. lawful permanent residents;
  • Noncitizen nationals of the United States;
  • Spouses of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents;
  • A foreign national who is the parent or legal guardian of an unmarried U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident under the age of 21;
  • A foreign national who is the sibling of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, provided they are both under 21;
  • A foreign national who is the child, foster child, or ward of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, or who is a prospective adoptee seeking to enter the United States on an IR-4 or IH-4 visa;
  • A foreign national traveling at the invitation of the U.S. government for a purpose related to containment or mitigation of the COVID-19 virus;
  • Any noncitizen traveling as a nonimmigrant pursuant to a C-1, D, or C-1/D nonimmigrant visa as a crewmember or any noncitizen otherwise traveling to the United States as air or sea crew;
  • Certain A, C, E-1 (TECRO or TECO), G, and NATO nonimmigrants, or nonimmigrants whose travel falls within the scope of section 11 of the United Nations Headquarters Agreement;
  • A foreign national whose entry would further important U.S. law enforcement objectives;
  • A foreign national whose entry would be in the national interest; and
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces, and spouses and children of members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Any physical presence in these countries triggers application of the ban, including flight connections and layovers, so it is important to arrange any travel accordingly.

Individuals seeking to return to the U.S. from one of the COVID-banned countries generally have two options:

  1. Securing a “National Interest Exception” (or “NIE”) waiver from the U.S. Consulate or Embassy in their home country. Presumably the NIE waiver process will be identical or similar to prior country-specific travel bans, and may be granted for travel related to humanitarian needs, public health response, and national security; and also may be granted for individuals who will work in critical economic sectors or who will provide vital support for significant economic activity in the U.S.
  2. Individuals seeking to return to the U.S. from a COVID-banned country who are unable to secure an NIE waiver – because the request is denied, delayed or not available – may choose to return to the U.S. only after a 14-day “quarantine” stay in a non-banned third country. The COVID-related ban only applies to individuals who have been physically present in one of the banned countries during the 14 days prior to admission to the U.S. Spending the 14 days prior to admission in another country removes the ban on entry into the U.S.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.