US Visa Fact Check

The past months have been and still are characterized by changing travel and visa regulations as well as quarantine requirements in connection with an entry into the United States. This volatile situation, caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, leads to misunderstandings and uncertainties. With our U.S. visa fact check we would like to clarify the most common misunderstandings and myths.

Currently ESTA applications can not be made

False. Online application via the ESTA website is still possible. ESTA applications will continue to be processed in a regular manner and will be approved if all requirements are met.

However, the possession of a valid ESTA authorization only means that this individual qualifies for visa-free entry. At the same time, of course, the travel regulations, such as the Corona Travel Ban for the Schengen area, may apply to ESTA holders. That means, that ESTA can be applied for, but does not automatically allow entry into the United States.

I can still enter the USA with a valid visa

Yes and no. Of course, entry into the United States is not completely prohibited. However, depending on the visa category and region from which the individual wants to enter, the existing Corona Travel Ban and / or NIV Ban must be taken into account.

As an example: An E-2 work visa holder who wants to travel from Germany to the U.S. cannot do this so easily. Due to the existing Corona Travel Ban for the Schengen area, this individual needs a National Interest Exception (NIE) from the U.S. consulate in advance. An L-1 visa holder living in India, on the other hand, does not have to comply with the Corona Travel Ban (since the entry ban does not apply to this region), but may nevertheless be affected by the NIV Ban (L visa).

From March 31, 2021 travel to the Uinted States from the Schengen area is possible again

This is a myth which persists and is based on a confusion. It is true that the NIV Ban (for H, L, J visa) is valid at least until March 31, 2021 (and can theoretically be extended again by the Biden administration). However, the existing Corona Travel Ban for, among others, the Schengen area will remain in effect until further notice. Currently, there are no plans to lift the Corona Travel Ban for the European region in the near future.

All German nationals are affected by the Corona Travel Ban

False. The Corona Travel Ban does not refer to nationalities, but to individuals who have stayed in certain regions 14 days before planned entry: Schengen area (including Germany, of course), Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Brazil, China, Iran and South Africa.

German citizens who currently live in Turkey, for example, and enter the United States from there can continue to do so. The decisive factor is therefore not the nationality of the traveler, but the country of residence before the planned entry.

Transit through the countries affected by the Corona Travel Ban to the U.S. is possible without any problems

False. We repeatedly hear of travelers who get stranded in Germany on a transit flight, for example, via Frankfurt to the United States.

As an example: A business executive in India who wants to enter the U.S. on a B-1 visa can do so. However, if her itinerary takes her through a country affected by the Corona Travel Ban, the airline will not transport her further. This is because a stopover in a country affected by the Corona Travel Ban also counts as a "stay" and therefore does not entitle the passenger to (onward) travel to the United States.

Only visa holders qualify for a National Interest Exception (NIE)

False. The so-called NIEs (National Interest Exceptions) grant an exemption or waiver for travelers affected by the Corona Travel Ban and / or NIV Ban. This means that under certain conditions actually "blocked" travelers receive a one-time entry permit; for example from Germany to the Unites States.

There is a persistent prejudice that NIEs can only be applied for by visa holders – but not by individuals with an ESTA approval or individuals who want to apply for a new visa. This is not correct. People who want to enter the country without a visa or who want to apply for a new U.S. visa can also obtain a NIE. A National Interst Exception can therefore be applied for with a valid visa or a valid ESTA as well as in the context of a visa application, provided that one of the NIE exemption criteria applies.

A NIE can only be applied for in-person at the U.S. consulate

This statement is not entirely correct. It is true that, if you already have a U.S. visa or ESTA authorization, you can usually apply for a NIE via e-mail or online form at the responsible U.S. consulate (with the corresponding documentation attached). The U.S. consulates in Corona Travel Ban affected regions provide information on their websites.

However, if an individual is currently applying for a U.S. visa at a U.S. consulate in Germany, for example, the visa will only be issued if that individual also qualifies for an NIE at the same time. In this case, the NIE application actually takes place directly at the U.S. consulate on the day of the appointment. In practice, this means that in addition to the usual visa application documentation, supporting documentation for NIE qualification must also be submitted.

By the way: Theoretically, it is also possible to apply for an NIE through the U.S. airport of destination and the CBP office located there. However, the procedure via the U.S. consulates is more common.

A NIE may also be valid for multiple entries into the U.S.

False. Although this rumor persists, a NIE still only authorizes a single entry into the United States. While an approved NIE for the Corona Travel Ban is valid within 30 days of approval by the U.S. Consulate, there is no time limit for an approved NIE for the NIV Ban.

However, if an individual with a valid NIE departs the United States and wishes to re-enter, e.g., from Germany, a new NIE application must be submitted (even if the 30-day period has theoretically not yet expired for a Corona Travel Ban NIE).

Visa applicants who are currently applying for visas at U.S. consulates affected by the Corona Travel Ban usually receive an annotation in their visa stating "NIE under PP on Novel Coronavirus." Unfortunately, this often results in the misunderstanding that these individuals will now always qualify for an exemption upon entry with the appropriate visa. However, this is not the case. Again, if the visa is issued, the NIE initially applies only to a single entry within 30 days of (usually) the issuance of the visa. If this individual leaves the United States and wants to re-enter with this visa, a new NIE application must still be filed (then by e-mail to the U.S. consulate).

A NIE can be applied for only once

False. Of course, travelers may submit NIE applications more than once, provided that urgent entry into the U.S. is again (demonstrably) required and the NIE criteria continue to be met.

Also, individuals who have been approved for an NIE for the Corona Travel Ban, but whose 30-day period for entry has expired, can and must then submit a new NIE application. The U.S. consulate may then have to be given an explanation as to why the (actually urgent) entry could not be made in time (e.g. flight cancelation, project postponement, etc.).

With a NIE I can only stay 30 days in the United States

False. This myth is based on a misinterpretation: An approved NIE for the Corona Travel Ban only states that this individual must enter within 30 days of approval. The individual's data is stored for 30 days in a system that can be accessed by the airline and, of course, by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The NIE says nothing about how long that individual may stay in the United States. The NIE only checks to see if the traveler qualifies for an exemption from the Corona Travel Ban. How long the individual is actually allowed to stay in the U.S. is still determined by the CBP officer at the time of entry.

Besides, an approved NIE for the NIV Entry Ban allows entry into the U.S. without time requirements.

With a NIE I can enter the U.S. without any problems

It depends. First of all a NIE is only an exemption to enter the country despite the existing U.S. entry bans (Corona Travel Ban and / or NIV Ban). This means that the U.S. consulate checks whether there is an urgent reason for travel (according to NIE regulations). All other immigration law requirements, i.e. valid passport, correct U.S. visa, etc. are of course still in force. Some travelers ignore this issue. Consequently, a NIE does not automatically entitle the holder to enter the United States. It only entitles to travel despite existing travel bans. Furthermore, U.S. border patrol agents will, of course, check for compliance with all other requirements.

Although some people can enter the U.S. with their NIE without any problems, we also hear now and then about problems at the check-in at the airport, despite existing NIE. We therefore strongly recommend all travelers to have the NIE e-mail confirmation in duplicate ready at the airport, as well as all other application documentation submitted to the U.S. consulate.
Tip: In case of problems, get connected with a supervisor of the airline and present the confirmation.

After a NIE denial, I can no longer travel visa-free with ESTA

It depends. If you already have a valid visa or ESTA authorization and apply for a NIE by e-mail, you will not face any negative consequences if your application is rejected. Except, of course, that you will not be able to enter the United States. The NIE application itself is not equivalent to a visa application and therefore does not have to be indicated as a denied visa application (which could then lead to an ESTA refusal) when applying for ESTA again, for example.

However, if you apply for a new U.S. visa in-person, combined with an NIE application, then a refusal of your NIE application could also result in a refusal of the visa and thus possibly a suspension for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) / ESTA.

The requirements for obtaining a Corona Travel Ban NIE are the same for all affected regions

False. For example, the Schengen area, Great Britain, Northern Ireland and Ireland have much more far-reaching exceptions than Brazil, South Africa, China and Iran, which are also affected. It therefore makes a considerable difference whether individuals want to apply for an NIE for entry from Germany to the U.S. or, for example, for entry from Brazil.

Applying for a U.S. visa is currently not possible

It depends. Nearly all U.S. consulates around the world have either severely limited their visa services since March 2020 or have indeed closed completely. This depends on the respective COVID-19 situation in the respective countries.

The U.S. consulates in Germany, for example, are currently closed – due to the lockdown in Germany – and only offer emergency appointments for urgent travel reasons. The U.S. Consulate in Vienna, on the other hand, reopens its doors after a closure period lasting several weeks, but with limited interview appointments. The U.S. consulates in Brazil and Mexico have not been operating for months.

Applicants must therefore observe the individual situation in the country of application.

Only travelers from regions affected by the Corona Travel Ban require a COVID-19 test

False. All individuals (including U.S. citizens), regardless of the country they are entering from, must present a negative COVID-19 test (taken up to three days prior to the departure). There are only narrow exceptions, such as for crew members or travelers under the age of two.

Vaccination replaces the required COVID-19 test for entry into the U.S.

False. Even individuals who have already been proven vaccinated must still present a negative COVID-19 test, which was taken no more than three days before the flight’s departure. Alternatively, confirmation that one has recovered from Corona disease will be accepted.

It is still completely unclear if and when vaccinated individuals may be eligible for travel relief.

After entry into the U.S., quarantine on site and retesting is mandatory

It depends. In fact, it depends on which U.S. states the individual will be in. There is currently no uniform quarantine regulation for the United States. While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends travelers retest for COVID-19 after 3 to 5 days upon arrival in the U.S., coupled with a minimum 7- to 10-day quarantine, this is not a mandatory requirement. These measures remain a recommendation for now.

However, travelers to the U.S. must urgently observe the existing requirements of the individual U.S. states and counties, which in some cases differ considerably. For example, there are currently no requirements for entry into Florida, whereas New York has implemented very far-reaching regulations (testing and quarantine requirements). With travel plans through several states, it can become confusing. The CDC's Travel Planner is helpful here.

Updated on 12.2.2021

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