Certain U.S. Consulates in the Schengen Area Are Implementing National Interest Exceptions for Visa Issuance and Travel Exceptions
Even as U.S. consulates slowly resume visa services, they remain limited in the visa services they can offer due to recent Presidential Proclamations and travel bans that currently remain in place. However, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) has recently provided a list of National Interest Exceptions (NIE) to the Presidential Proclamations that relate to the suspension of admission of certain nonimmigrants from restricted countries in the Schengen Area.
The specific qualifications for a NIE and the administration of the application process vary somewhat by Embassy but are generally applicable to Students, Business Travelers, Investors, and Academics seeking to travel to the U.S. directly from the Schengen Area. For example, see the Embassy-specific instructions for Bern, Germany and Bratislava, Slovakia.
The following categories of travelers are generally listed on Embassy websites as those who may now qualify for NIEs to the March proclamation for travel from the Schengen Area to the United States:
- Public Health: Travel as a public health or healthcare professional or researcher to alleviate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, or to continue ongoing research in an area with substantial public health benefit (e.g. cancer or disease research).
- Students: All students, and their dependents, traveling to the United States on an F or M visa to pursue a full course of study or on a J visa to participate in an exchange program as a bona fide student.
- Academics: All exchange visitors and their dependents traveling to the United States on J visas in the following categories: Professors, Research Scholars, Short Term Scholars, or Specialists.
- Investors: Travel in connection with investment or trade in the U.S. economy that generates a substantial economic impact, including investors and treaty-traders on E visas and the senior-level employees who provide strategic direction or expertise essential to the success of the investment, and their dependents.
- Economic: Temporary travel that provides a substantial economic benefit to the U.S. economy, including:
- Technical experts and specialists to install, service, maintain, or receive training for vessels, machinery and other specialized equipment used by U.S. and foreign firms with a substantial investment in the United States. Travel is temporary in nature and for a defined period of time.
- Senior-level managers and executives, and their dependents, who provide strategic direction necessary for the success of the company or venture.
- Professional athletes, dependents, and essential staff who enter the United States to participate in major sporting events, which bolster the U.S. economy.
Individuals approved for a NIE for economic and investor related travel will be issued visas with a full validity period; however, the travel exception will remain valid for only 30 days from the date of approval and the visa will be valid for only a single entry into the United States.
Students who already hold valid F and M visas and I-20s may now travel directly from the Schengen area to the U.S. without any additional consular steps or approvals. Students who do not currently hold a valid visa should follow the standard visa application processes and should be issued a multiple entry visa. Students applying for F-1 or M-1 visas to begin studies, rather than continue studies in the United States, remain subject to the rules limiting remote learning.
Individuals who require a visa and believe that they fall under one of the exception categories listed above are instructed to apply for their visas per the standard visa application processes. Travelers that already have valid visas or ESTA and believe they qualify for an NIE for economic, investor, or exchange visitor related purposes must proactively seek verification from a Consular official in order to qualify for the NIE and be allowed to travel to the U.S. directly from the Schengen area. Those individuals whose ESTA was cancelled due to COVID-19 may also seek to have their ESTA reinstated.
DOS has announced that NIE will also be available for the U.K. and Ireland, with more details expected soon for Embassies there.
If you do not qualify for an NIE and are in the Schengen area or in another impacted area, such as Brazil, you can still go to another country not subject to a travel restriction and quarantine there for at least 14 days before seeking entry to the United States. If you do this, you must be forthcoming with the CBP officer as to your prior locations.
If you believe that you potentially qualify for one of the NIE categories listed above, please contact your Foster attorney for assistance with the NIE process. If you will self-quarantine for 14 days in a country not impacted by a proclamation, Foster can assist with that as well. Foster will continue to monitor changes related to consular post activities and requirements and will make additional updates available via our firm’s website at www.fosterglobal.com.