New US Travel Rules In Place As Regional Bans Lifted
The US travel ban officially ended on November 8 for fully vaccinated foreign nationals, including travelers from the UK.
President Biden issued a Presidential Proclamation on October 25, 2021, rescinding the 18-month long US regional travel ban and replacing the restrictions with a new COVID-19 vaccination policy applicable to nonimmigrant air travel from overseas.
New US travel rules
With effect from 12:01am EST, November 8, 2021, all adult foreign travelers from overseas are now required to show proof of two COVID vaccinations in order to travel to the USA. The new vaccination requirement applies to nonimmigrant air travel from anywhere abroad.
Fully vaccinated foreign nationals must also meet strict, pre-travel COVID testing protocols by showing proof of a negative test taken within the previous three days before they will be allowed to board their flight to the USA.
In addition, airlines will be required to collect contact information from all airline passengers so that they can be traced if required. This applies to all passengers, irrespective of vaccination status, nationality or citizenship.
Exceptions to the US travel COVID vaccination requirement
The Proclamation provides a limited number of exemptions to the COVID vaccination requirement for international air travel to the US. The following groups do not have to show proof of double vaccination in order to board a flight to the US:
- US citizens and lawful permanent residents.
- Immigrant visa applicants, who instead are subject to different vaccination rules.
- Children under 18 years of age.
- Nationals of countries where there is low vaccine availability, namely where there is less than 10 percent total vaccination rate in the population. This exemption does not apply for B1/B2 travel.
- Foreign nationals with documented medical contraindications for the COVID vaccination.
- Emergency and humanitarian exceptions as granted by overseas US consulates.
- Those who are or have participated in certain clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccination.
- Those deemed by the State Department, the Transportation Department or the Department of Homeland Security as traveling in the ‘national interest’.
- Certain diplomatic or UN travel.
- Certain air and sea crew members.
- US armed forces personnel and their immediate family.
- Those traveling for an important reason who lack access to vaccination in a timely manner
As a notable omission from the list of exceptions, those refusing the vaccine on religious or moral grounds are not exempt from the vaccine requirement.
Unvaccinated foreign nationals
Foreign travelers who have not received two doses of the COVID vaccine and who do not fall within one of the stated exceptions will continue to be barred from traveling to the US.
Foreign nationals who qualify for an exemption to the vaccine requirement must still meet strict public health and COVID testing protocols.
Pre-arrival testing protocol
Under the new, one-day pre-arrival testing rule, unvaccinated excepted foreign travelers must provide evidence of a negative COVID test from within one day of traveling to the US, or provide proof of recent recovery from COVID.
Children between the ages of 2 – 17 are also subject to this rule, unless they are travelling with a fully vaccinated adult, and they will then have to comply with the standard three-day testing requirement.
Unless one of the following exceptions applies, excepted foreign nationals must agree to be vaccinated within 60 days of arrival within the US or another timeframe determined by the CDC:
- Vaccination is inappropriate due to age or medical status
- Their stay in the United States is 60 days or less
- They have participated in certain COVID vaccine clinical trials or
- Certain diplomats and other case-by-case determinations by the CDC.
Excepted foreign nationals must ensure they follow post-arrival public health protocols. This could include obtaining a negative COVID test within three to five days after arrival in the US and complying with applicable and current quarantine rules.
US citizens & lawful permanent residents
US citizens and lawful permanent residents continue to be subject to COVID testing protocols.
Vaccinated US citizens and lawful permanent residents must continue to provide a negative COVID test taken within three days of travel, or provide proof of recent recovery to be able to board a flight to the USA.
Under the new rules, however, stricter testing protocols apply to unvaccinated US citizens and lawful permanent residents. They will need to provide a negative COVID test within one day of their flight, or provide proof of recent COVID recovery.
Travel across US borders with Mexico & Canada
The COVID vaccination requirement applies to all international air travel from anywhere overseas, including travel to the US by air from Canada and Mexico.
Note however that land and sea crossings into the US from Canada and Mexico are not covered by this new requirement, as different rules apply.
Proof of vaccination
To be able to board a flight to the US from anywhere overseas, foreign nationals must first present proof of their double vaccination status to the airline. This can include digital or printed evidence, which the airline will use to verify the traveler’s vaccination status prior to boarding.
The documentation should contain the name of the organisation that issued the record, the name of vaccine manufacturer, the dates of the vaccinations and the traveler’s biometric information (which must match the information on the traveler’s passport or travel document).
Travelers are also required to sign a form certifying the validity of their vaccination documentation.
What does the end of the US travel ban mean for UK travelers?
The end of the travel restrictions is undoubtedly welcome news for British travelers, since most business travel and all tourism from the UK to the US has been prohibited for 18 months.
Air and land borders to the US were closed to certain foreign nationals by Donald Trump early on in the COVID pandemic in 2020. The regional travel bans prohibited foreign nationals who had been recently present in Brazil, China, India, Iran, Ireland, the Schengen Area, South Africa or the United Kingdom from traveling to the US.
Under the rules of the travel ban, only US citizens, their immediate families, green card holders and those with national interest exemptions could travel to the US if they had been in an affected country in the previous 14 days.
The end of the ban means fully vaccinated travelers have to present proof of vaccination when boarding the flight and meet the testing protocols.
If you do need a visa, for example, you’re not eligible for ESTA authorization, or if you need a work visa or a waiver, you will need to make the visa application in the usual way. However, applicants are being warned of current delays in application processing.
Services at US consulates and embassies globally are yet to resume in full after being scaled back due to the pandemic. With backlogs in applications, a high demand for visas and low availability of interview appointments, applicants should prepare for delays in processing and in appointment dates being available. Delays are also expected to be further exacerbated by surges in applications after the ban has been lifted.
It is important to note that the vaccine requirement does not form part of the visa processing process, even with visa applicants who are subject to the COVID vaccination requirement. This means foreign nationals can still be granted a visa to travel to the US but if they do not meet the vaccination requirement, where it applies, they will not be permitted to board the flight, regardless of the fact they have a valid visa.
Travelers should take advice on their US immigration options to ensure they have the required permission to travel. If you need a visa or waiver of admissibility to travel to the US, take advice to understand processing times and interview availability when making your application.
If you are planning to travel to the US and are unsure whether you need a visa or for guidance on the latest in US visa processing, speak to our US immigration specialists.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.