U.S. entry possible again due to National Interest Exception

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, extensive U.S. travel restrictions have been in place for months. Not much has changed in terms of entry and visa bans to date. However, the U.S. authorities have recently introduced National Interest Exceptions (NIE), which allow travel to the USA for persons whose entry is of national interest. We explain where and how to request for exemption from the travel bans. Our visa experts will be happy to assist you with your NIE application!


Exemption from U.S. entry ban through National Interest Exception (NIE)

In order to allow entry into the United States in times of Corona, certain exceptions have been created by the U.S. authorities. For persons who are actually affected by the visa and travel restrictions, entry into the United States is thus possible in exceptional cases – but only with prior official permission from the U.S. consulate.

These National Interest Exceptions (NIE) are exclusively based on national interests. Applicants must prove and justify that their entry into the United States is a matter of national interest in order to be exempted from the U.S. entry bans.

A NIE can be applied for:

  1. the Corona Travel Ban
  2. the Nonimmigrant Visa Entry Ban (for H, L, and J visas)

The U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will determine which foreign U.S. travelers are subject to these specific exemptions.

Image of a U.S. visa with National Interest Exception

National Interest Exception in the annotation

Note: In addition to the exceptions mentioned in the course of a National Interest (NIE), there are general exceptions for both the Corona Travel Ban and the NIV Entry Ban. That means individuals who are generally not affected by the entry or visa ban (U.S. citizens, Green Card holders, etc.).

Who may qualify for a National Interest Exception?

It cannot be clearly stated which persons may apply for a National Interest Exception (NIE), as on the one hand the exceptions are determined by the U.S. authorities and on the other the exceptions differ depending on the U.S. entry ban (Corona Travel Ban and / or NIV Entry Ban). Some U.S. travelers may even be affected by several entry bans at the same time and therefore they have to qualify for one or more different exceptions in order to obtain a U.S. visa and / or be allowed to travel to the United States.

In general the following individuals can obtain a National Interest Exception:

  1. Holders of a valid U.S. visa
  2. Holders of a valid ESTA travel authorization
  3. Applicants for a new U.S. visa

If you need assistance with your NIE application, please contact our visa specialists at any time.

Then, the respective U.S. entry bans must be distinguished.

The following persons, among others, may qualify for a NI exception from the Corona Travel Ban due to national interest:

Corona Travel Ban National Interest Exception
all countries: only Schengen area / United Kingdom / Ireland:
Health professionals working on COVID-19 containment students (F-1 or M-1)*
harvest workers traders (E-1) / investors (E-2)
service providers for U.S. authorities (e.g. military) scientists (J-1)
  individuals who bring significant benefit to the U.S. economy (specialists, executives, technical experts etc.)

*no official NIE application necessary; entry directly possible.

Depending on the visa category (H, L, J), persons with the following critieria, among others, may qualify for a NI exception from the Nonimmigrant Visa Entry Ban due to national interest:

  • Resumption of current employment in the United States in the same position with the same employer and the same visa category
  • productive work / services related to critical U.S. infrastructure
  • immediate work on containment of COVID-19
  • Contribution to economic recovery in the U.S.
  • "critical business need"
  • accompanying family members of H, L and J holders under H-4, L-2 and J-2 status

The list of criteria for NIE exceptions for the NIV Entry Ban is much more complex and extensive tcompared to the Corona Travel Ban. Depending on the visa category, different entry requirements must be met. This requires a very precise examination in advance.

For companies and their employees, therefore, it should be noted that certain business trips or work assignments resulting in significant economic benefits for the U.S. economy may be a reason for a National Interest Exception.

Note: The general exceptions for the respective bans continue to apply and do not require prior NIE approval. However, those U.S. travelers who require a National Interest Exception must apply for it in advance of their trip to the United States.

Where and how do I apply for a NIE?

The application for National Interest Exception (NIE) must be submitted to the U.S. consulate, regardless of whether a valid visa or ESTA approval is available or whether a new U.S. visa is being applied for.

Picture of information for a National Interest Exception

The application for a National Interest Exception (NIE) may differ depending on the country or U.S. consulate. To prove the urgency and importance of your trip to the United States, you generally need to prepare the following NIE application documents, among others:

  • signed NIE compliance statement
  • letter of justification and, if requested, further proofs
  • copy of passport
  • travel data
  • ESTA approval / visa copy
  • if necessary, further documents (depending on the U.S. consulate)

We have already been able to submit many successful NIE applications for our customers in Europe. The application process for a National Interest Exception (NIE) at a U.S. consulate in Germany can be summarized as follows:

NIE request with existing visa / ESTA
(only Corona Travel Ban NIEs)
NIE request when applying for a visa
(Corona Travel Ban and / or NIV Entry Ban NIEs)
1. Contact the U.S. consulate
request by e-mail to the responsible U.S. consulate regular visa appointment or emergency appointment (depending on visa category and consulate)
2. Submission of the NIE application documents
via e-mail during the visa appointment with regular visa application documentation
3. Examination by U.S. consulate
processing time approx. 2-7 days examination on the day of the visa appointment if the conditions for visa and NIE(s) are met
4. Granted NIE(s)
NIE approval by e-mail visa issuance
5. Refused NIE(s)
entry currently not possible visa refusal (exclusion from VWP / ESTA, if applicable); entry currently not possible


Please note: According to official announcements of the U.S. authorities, a NIE application is only possible if the applicant is physically located outside the Unites States. This means that the person must be in Germany, for example.

Are you unsure whether you qualify for a National Interest Exception? Or do you have trouble demonstrating the urgency and national interest of entering the United States? In the past weeks we have been very successful in gaining extensive experience with NIE applications in different U.S. embassies and U.S. consulates – for example, for holders or applicants of business visas (B) and work visas (E, L).

We would be happy to pass this know-how on to you by providing an assessment of whether you basically qualify for a NIE and / or by providing assistance with the application process. Contact us now to discuss your case!

How long is a NIE valid?

Depending on the ban for which you apply for a National Interest Exception (NIE), there are different requirements for the potential entry into the United States.

Corona Travel Ban NIE

An approved NI Exception for the Corona Travel Ban allows a single entry into the U.S. within 30 days from the date of approval. If a new trip to the United States is planned, a new NIE application must or can be submitted. Since the Corona Travel Ban is directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic and its containment, thus is intended to protect the American population, there are clear timelines.

Nonimmigrant Visa Entry Ban NIE

An approved NI Exception for the NIV Entry Ban basically allows entry into the U.S. without time restrictions – in contrast to the NIE for the Corona Travel Ban.

The reason for that is, that the NIV Entry Ban was established to protect the U.S. labor market. This means that if persons qualify for a waiver, e.g. if they receive an L visa, there is no reason to allow them to enter the U.S. only within a certain period of time after visa issuance.

Note: If persons apply for a NIE for a visa category subject to the NIV Entry Ban (H, L, J) in a region affected by the Corona Travel Ban (e.g. Schengen area), then a NIE is automatically required for both bans. If the visa and the NIEs are approved, the U.S. traveler concerned would still have to enter the country within 30 days; not on the basis of the NIV Entry Ban NIE, but on the basis of the approved Corona Travel Ban NIE.

U.S. entry - when will I be able to travel again?

Entry into the U.S. is currently only possible to a very limited extent due to the Corona crisis. Only a few persons, such as U.S. citizens or Green Card holders, are exempt from the U.S. entry bans. Since the U.S. government has issued several entry bans for different persons or regions and with different terms in each case, it can only be answered individually when entry to the United States will be possible again. The following distinction must be made here:

  1. Corona Travel Ban in force until further notice
    This ban prohibits travelers from certain countries (e.g. Germany) from entering the United States until further notice. When and to what extent (i.e. for which regions / countries) this U.S. entry ban will be lifted cannot be predicted at this time. In the light of mounting coronavirus cases, however, it cannot be assumed that the Corona Travel Ban will be lifted in the near future. If necessary, a National Interest Exception may be obtained.
  2. Nonimmigrant Visa Entry Ban in force until the end of the year (extension possible)
    Until at least December 31, 2020 the issuance of and entry into the U.S. with certain nonimmigrant visas (e.g. H-1B, L-1A, L-1B, L-blanket) is suspended. The U.S. authorities reserve the right to extend or tighten the measures. Here too, a National Interest Exception may be obtained.

Our visa experts help companies and their employees individually with their NIE application.
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