US Immigration: Entry Exemption for UK, Irish &
Schengen travellers

In this week’s instalment of our series on US immigration, we take a look at National Interest Exceptions for certain travellers from the Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland.

In a bid to control the spread of COVID-19, far-reaching entry and travel bans have been in place in the United States for months. However, certain travellers can request permission to enter the US if their reason for travel is considered to be of national interest. A National Interest Exception application is a request for exemption from the US travel ban, which, if granted, authorises travel to the United States.

Individuals who wish to visit the United States will require a National Interest Exception in order to travel directly to the US from the UK, Ireland, the Schengen region, Iran, Brazil and China. This includes trips using Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA). Those traveling with a valid ESTA are required to email the US consulate of the region in residence before traveling to the United States.

New criteria for NIE applications

On 2 March 2021, the US Secretary of State revoked the previous guidelines regarding categories of travellers from the Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland that are eligible for exceptions, introducing more restrictive criteria. The changes have been implemented in response to the ongoing pandemic, as the US continues to place restrictions on non-essential international travel.

The previous national interest determination covered certain technical experts and specialists, senior-level managers and executives, treaty-traders and investors, professional athletes, and their dependents. However, the newly published policy on National Interest Exceptions allows fewer ways to qualify for an exception. An overview of the newly published policy is outlined below.

Business travellers

Following the changes, the outlook for many business travellers, executives and investors seeking to enter the US is unfortunately less positive. Senior Executives and managers no longer qualify or easily qualify for a National Interest Exception under the new standards.

‘Critical infrastructure’

Under the new policy, travellers may qualify for a National Interest Exception if they are entering the US to provide vital support for critical infrastructure. The term “vital support” includes activities such as installation, procurement, maintenance, and essential security training that are necessary to maintain supply and production chains in the infrastructure linked supply chain.

Students, academics and journalists

National Interest Exception criteria remains unchanged for academics, students, journalists and individuals travelling for humanitarian reasons.

Students traveling from the Schengen Area, the UK, and Ireland with valid F-1 and M-1 visas do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual National Interest Exception to travel. However, students seeking to apply for new F-1 or M-1 visa 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 a National Interest Exception to travel.

Additionally, the Department of State also continues to grant National Interest Exceptions for qualified travellers seeking to enter the US for purposes related to humanitarian travel, public health response, and national security.  These travellers and any others who believe their travel to be in the United States national interest should also review the website of the nearest US embassy or consulate for instructions on how to contact them.

Tourists and visitors

At the present time, travel for tourism purposes is still suspended in the United States.

Conditions and requirements

Under the new policy, once approved the National Interest Exception is valid for a single entry to the US and the traveller must seek admission within 30 days of receiving it. Each time the traveller intends to travel to the US, they will need to apply for a new National Interest Exception, unless President Biden terminates the presidential proclamation that prohibits travel from the listed countries.

Support with US immigration

If you have any US immigration queries, please contact the SSW global immigration team. We are able to provide full support with the visa application process and also post–arrival assistance.

With the help of our global network, we are well equipped to navigate international law and assist with the processing of your visa, whilst ensuring that local immigration rules are met thereafter.

Share story
Back to top of page