Tag Archives: travel restrictions

Interview Waiver Discretion Expanded by DOS: Additional Drop Box Appointments Available Soon

Interview Waiver Discretion Expanded by DOS: Additional Drop Box Appointments Available Soon

On December 23, 2021, the Department of State announced that consular officers would be able to waive the in-person interview requirements for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants with approved petitions with USCIS. This potential waiver applies to individuals applying for H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q visas who meet certain conditions. The following conditions apply:

  • The individual must be applying for a visa in their country of nationality or residence.
  • They must have been previously issued any type of visa.
  • The individual must have never been refused a visa, unless the refusal was overcome or waived.
  • They must have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility (criminal charges, citations, overstays, etc.)

First-time individual petition-based H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q applicants who are citizens or nationals of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) provided they have “no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility and have previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)” may also be eligible for an interview waiver.

The Secretary of State also extended previous interview waiver policies for certain students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists (F, M, and academic J visa applicants). One change to the previous policy is that applicants eligible for the waiver authority because they are citizens or nationals of a VWP participating country must have previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained via ESTA to qualify.  Applicants must apply for a visa in their country of nationality or residence. 

The interview waiver of certain H-2 (A and B) applicants has also been extended through the end of 2022. Applicants renewing any visa within 48 months are eligible for an interview waiver. However, the Department of State notes that it is up to the consular officers’ discretion and applicants could still be required to attend an in-person interview.

Visa Appointments Are Still Limited: India Update

The DOS notes that you should check with your local consular posts for details on interview waiver appointments. There are still backlogs at most posts given the COVID-19 backlogs, limited operating conditions, and staffing challenges.

The visa services division in India has announced additional appointments are to be released:

In the coming days, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in India will release more than 20,000 additional interview waiver (dropbox) appointments for Spring 2022 to allow qualified applicants to make use of the new interview waiver authority. Due to reduced staffing and numerous pandemic-related disruptions to our operations since March 2020, appointment demand is high across all visa categories and wait times may be lengthy for most routine nonimmigrant visa appointments at the U.S. Embassy New Delhi and the consulates in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai.

As a reminder, all travelers must abide by vaccination and testing requirements set forth by the CDC, DHS, DOS, and the airlines.

Additional Resources

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Travel FAQs & New Guidance on COVID-19 Vaccination Requirements

DHS Releases Details on Easing Travel Restrictions & Travel FAQs

On Friday, DHS released new details for travelers who plan to enter the U.S. at land ports of entry and ferry terminals. Previously non-citizen travelers were permitted to enter for essential travel, but with the new requirements, non-essential travelers can enter the U.S. provided they are fully vaccinated and can provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination status. DHS also notes that unvaccinated travelers may continue to cross the border for essential travel, including lawful trade, emergency response, and public health purposes.

DHS states that “Starting November 8, when arriving at a U.S. land POE or ferry terminal, non-citizen travelers should be prepared to (1) provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination, as outlined on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website; and (2) verbally attest to their reason for travel and COVID-19 vaccination status during a border inspection.”

The requirements are consistent with the Proclamation issued on October 25, 2021, suspending and limiting entry for nonimmmigrants seeking to enter the U.S. by air travel who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The Presidential Proclamation and CDC order do not apply to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, U.S. lawful permanent residents and immigrants. Certain air crew members may also be exempt.

Air and Land Travel FAQs

Who is considered fully vaccinated?

You are considered fully vaccinated:

  • 2 weeks (14 days) after your dose of an accepted single-dose COVID-19 vaccine.
  • 2 weeks (14 days) after your second dose of an accepted 2-dose series COVID-19 vaccine; or
  • 2 weeks (14 days) after you received the full series of an “active” (not placebo) COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.-based AstraZeneca or Novavax COVID-19 vaccine trials
  • 2 weeks (14 days) after you received 2 doses of any “mix-and-match” combination of accepted COVID-19 vaccines administered at least 17 days apart*

If you don’t meet these requirements, you are NOT considered fully vaccinated.

Example: If your last dose was given at any time on October 1st, you would be eligible to travel on October 15th or later to meet the 14-day requirement. If your flight departs on October 14th, you will be asked to reschedule after the full 14 days have passed.

What are considered acceptable COVID-19 vaccines?

CDC has not recommended the use of mix-and-match COVID-19 vaccine primary series. However, such strategies are increasingly common in many countries outside of the United States. Therefore, for the purpose of interpreting vaccination records for travel to the United States, CDC will accept combinations of accepted COVID-19 vaccines.

How can I prove that I have been vaccinated for COVID-19? 

The CDC has provided several options for proving your COVID-19 vaccination status: verifiable records, non-verifiable paper records, and non-verifiable digital records.

  • Verifiable records (digital or paper): could be a vaccination certificate with a QR code (which links to the information confirming the credential was generated from an immunization record in an official database and is protected from tampering) or a digital pass via a smartphone application with a QR code
  • Non-verifiable paper records: printout of COVID-19 vaccination record or vaccination certificate issued at a national or subnational level or by an authorized vaccine provider, such as the CDC vaccination card
  • Non-verifiable digital records: digital photos of vaccination card or records, downloaded vaccine record or certificate from official source (public health agency, government agency, or other authorized vaccine provider) or a mobile phone application without a QR code

All COVID-19 vaccination records must have:

  • Personal identifiers (at least full name and date of birth) that match the passenger’s passport or other travel documents,
  • Name of official source issuing the record (public health agency, government agency, or other authorized vaccine provider), and
  • Vaccine manufacturer and date(s) of vaccination.

Procedures for Travelers Who Qualify for Exceptions

Categories of noncitizen, nonimmigrants that meet the criteria for an exception under the proclamation and CDC’s order include:

  • Persons on diplomatic or official foreign government travel
  • Children under 18 years of age
  • Persons with documented medical contraindications to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine
    • Must show a letter from a licensed physician on official letterhead with contact information that clearly states the medical condition and the vaccine product
    • Example: immediate or severe allergic reaction after a previous dose or a component of a COVID-19 vaccine or known allergy to a component of the vaccine
    • Check with the airline to determine if a translation of the letter is necessary for their review
  • Participants in certain COVID-19 vaccine trials
  • Persons issued a humanitarian or emergency exception
    • Emergency medical evacuations or other situation where the individual is unable to access or complete the vaccination requirement before travel.
    • Contact the U.S. embassy or consulate in or nearest to the country from which they are departing for the United States. The embassy will transmit the information to the CDC for consideration.
    • You can contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, or call these numbers at the U.S. Department of State headquarters: From the United States and Canada: 888-407-4747; from overseas: 202-501-4444
  • Persons with valid visas [excluding B-1 (business) or B-2 (tourism) visas] who are citizens of a foreign country with limited COVID-19 vaccine availability
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces or their spouses or children (under 18 years of age)
  • Sea crew members traveling pursuant to a C-1 and D nonimmigrant visa
  • Persons whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, Secretary of Transportation, or Secretary of Homeland Security (or their designees)

If you are a noncitizen, nonimmigrant who does not fall under any of these exceptions, you must show proof of being fully vaccinated before boarding a flight to the United States.

If you qualify for an exception, you must attest that you will test for COVID-19 within 3 to 5 days after your arrival in the U.S. unless you have documentation of recovery from COVID-19 from within the past 90 days. You must also self-quarantine for 7 days, even if your COVID-19 viral test is negative and you must self-isolate if the test is positive or if you develop COVID-19 symptoms.

Depending on the category of the exception, the CDC notes that if you plan to stay in the U.S. for longer than 60 days, you may also be required to attest that you will agree to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and you have arranged to become fully vaccinated within 60 days of your arrival or as soon thereafter as is medically appropriate. Children too young to be vaccinated will not attest to the vaccination requirement, but parents or another authorized person will have to attest on behalf of any passenger who is unable to sign their own attestation on the other requirements.

Please note: there are no exceptions under the Presidential Proclamation and CDC’s Order for religious reasons or other moral convictions.

Additional Travel Considerations

As non-essential travel resumes, DHS expects that travel volumes and wait times will increase at border crossings and other ports of entry.

  • Plan for long lines and increased wait times when scheduling travel.
  • Consider facial biometrics and the CBP mobile app to access CBP services.
  • Keep COVID-19 documentation and valid travel documents readily accessible for all members of your party.
  • Check that COVID-19 documentation is accurate and matches your passport and other travel documents.

If you have any additional questions, please contact us at info@challalaw.com.

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Join us on Wednesdays for a live webinar at 12 PM ET on critical immigration updates

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U.S. Announces Travel Restrictions to Be Lifted

U.S. Announces Travel Restrictions To Be Lifted

White House pandemic coordinator, Jeff Zients, announced a new international air travel system that will allow travelers abroad to enter the U.S. once again. Zients stated that the new system “enhances the safety of international air travel” and would allow COVID-19-based travel bans to end in early November for those who are fully vaccinated against the virus. The existing requirements for COVID-19 tests will remain, even for fully vaccinated travelers. Individuals wishing to travel to the U.S. need to show proof of a negative test within three days of their planned entry to the U.S. Masks will still be required, but quarantine mandates are not expected.

Americans who are abroad will have stricter testing requirements if they remain unvaccinated. The individuals may also be contacted by officials after arrival to see if they are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to announce a process for airlines to help implement a contact-tracing system by collecting phone numbers and email addresses of travelers. Zients stated: “This will enable CDC and state and local public health officials to follow up with inbound travelers and those around them as someone has potentially been exposed to COVID-19 or other pathogens.” The CDC will also release the list of vaccinations that will be acceptable before the new policy goes into effect.

Are you currently in a country subject to travel bans? 

If you have an urgent need to travel in the next few weeks, the existing travel restrictions will still be in place. You can request an emergency appointment and National Interest Exception if you qualify. However, the timeline for getting these approvals may be longer than a few weeks and therefore moot after the restrictions are lifted in November.

Check with your medical provider to determine if international travel and the current requirements are recommended for you. Note that some of the most popular vaccines require two doses, several weeks apart. If you wish to travel in November, consider scheduling your vaccination appointments early so that all required doses can be completed. If the vaccines available to you abroad are not currently approved for use in the U.S., you should check the CDC list of approved vaccines after it it is released (expected soon).

The consular posts are still subject to significant backlogs for visa appointments as posts are subject to country-specific operating conditions. Although you may be allowed to enter the U.S., obtaining visa stamping in a timely manner is expected to remain challenging in the coming months.

Resources

Connecting with Challa Law Group

Join us on Wednesdays for a live webinar at 12 PM ET on critical immigration updates

Don’t miss out on the immigration news! You can sign up for our mailing list or follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also join our Telegram community.

Contact us at info@challalaw.com or 804-360-8482 to get your case started today.