USDOS Provides Updated Guidance on National Interest Exemptions for Certain Travelers from China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, and India
On April 26, 2021, the U.S. Department of State announced that certain individuals (including those in F and M student visa status and certain J exchange visitor categories) traveling to the U.S. from China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland may be eligible for a “National Interest Exemption” (NIE) to the current 14-day travel restrictions from those countries under various Presidential Proclamations related to COVID-19. However, eligible students and exchange visitors traveling from China, Iran, Brazil, or South Africa may only qualify for a NIE as of August 1, 2021 or later. From the guidance provided, eligible travelers from the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland continue to be eligible for the NIE based on the July 16, 2020 guidance for those countries.
On April 30, 2021, USDOS announced that F/M visa students and certain J exchange visitor categories from India have been added to the National Interest Exemption eligibility list with China, Iran, Brazil, and South Africa effective August 1, 2021.
The USDOS announcement also states that students with valid F-1 and M-1 visas intending to begin or continue an academic program commencing August 1, 2021 or later do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual NIE to travel. Students seeking to apply for new F-1 or M-1 visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest embassy or consulate; those applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for an NIE to travel. This guidance would also apply to students on F-1 post-completion Optional Practical Training or STEM OPT Extension.
While no additional documentation is officially required for F-1/F-2 visa holders to present upon entry to the U.S. showing this exemption we strongly recommend that they print out a copy of the official announcement from the U.S. State Department, available here (April 26, 2021 announcement) and here (April 8, 2021 announcement).
MIT recommends travelers contact their airline prior to their travel date to be sure they will have no difficulty boarding their flight to the U.S. (and in case any changes in policy are posted).
J-1/J-2 visa holders should contact their local U.S. Embassy/Consulate to make a NIE request, and receive approval, prior to travel to the U.S.
Reminder: Students beginning their in-person study at MIT in Fall 2021 (with Form I-20 for “Initial Attendance” or Form DS-2019 for “Begin New Program”) will not be able to enter the U.S. until August 8, 2021 at the earliest (no earlier than 30 days prior to the Fall 2021 semester start date of September 7, 2021).
Students are reminded they must still carry all documentation verifying their student visa status eligibility when entering the U.S., including: valid passport, valid Form I-20, valid entry visa (F or J) from U.S. Embassy/Consulate in passport, proof of admission to or enrollment at MIT and proof of financial support. Students on F-1 Post-Completion OPT or STEM OPT Extension must also carry their EAD card and proof of employment; Students on J-1 Academic Training will need to carry documentation of their AT approval and proof of employment. Further details on student travel to the U.S. is available on the ISO “Visas and Travel” webpage.
Additional resources on NIEs and COVID-19 related travel restrictions are available on the NAFSA: Association of International Educators website here.
The ISO and ISchO will be sure to notify students/scholars via email and on the ISO Updates page and the ISchO News page with any updates or clarifications issued by the U.S. Department of State on the travel restrictions.