State Department Expands National Interest Exception Criteria

Jun 11, 2021 | Consular Services & Travel

The criteria for a National Interest Exception (NIE) to the Covid travel ban continue to evolve.  Department of State has recently expanded the NIE criteria – which had contracted in March – to include travelers providing vital support or executive direction for significant economic activity in the United States.  This is a welcome development for business executives seeking to travel to the U.S. from countries with Covid-19 restrictions, including Brazil, China, India, Iran, Ireland, South Africa, the Schengen Area, and the United Kingdom.

Who qualifies for an NIE?

Covered travelers include:

  • Those seeking to provide vital support or executive direction for critical infrastructure or significant economic activity in the United States;
  • Journalists;
  • Students and certain academics covered by exchange visitor programs;
  • Immigrants; and
  • Fiancé(e)s

Qualified travelers who are applying for or who have valid visas or Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) may travel to the United States following the procedures summarized in the announcement released on May 27, 2021.

What about students?

The notice states that students with valid F-1 or M-1 visas traveling to begin or continue an academic program do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual NIE to travel. They may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the start of their academic studies. NIE eligibility for students who have been present in Brazil, China, India, Iran, or South Africa applies only to programs beginning on or after August 1, 2021. The notice advises students seeking to apply for new F-1 or M-1 visas to check the status of visa services at the nearest embassy or consulate. Those who are otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for an NIE to travel.

Are others still eligible for NIEs?

Yes. The Department continues to grant NIEs for qualified travelers seeking to enter the United States for several purposes, including humanitarian travel, public health response, and national security. The notice advises these travelers and any others who believe their travel to be in the United States’ national interest to review the website of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for instructions on how to contact them.

Contact your WR attorney for advice and help in specific situations.

More info: State Dept. notice, May 27, 2021,

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