Breaking Down the Eligibility Updates to the National Interest Exception (NIE)
As times change and more people are getting vaccinated, the U.S. State Department has updated its eligibility for the National Interest Exception (NIE). If you are unfamiliar with the NIE, it is a way for current U.S. visa holders, ESTA-approved travelers, or applicants to a new U.S. visa to bypass the United States’ COVID-19-related travel restrictions and legally enter the country. To get an NIE, generally speaking, you must prove that your travel to the United States is in the national interest of the United States, or that your travel is somehow otherwise exempted from the relevant travel restrictions.
The U.S. State Department has updated eligibility for the NIE, allowing access to:
- Immigrant Visa Holders/Applicants
- K Fiancé(e) Visa Holders/ Applicants
- Certain exchange Visitors
- A list of exchange visitors eligible for the NIE is available here.
- Pilots and Air Crew Traveling for Training and Aircraft Pickup, Delivery, or Maintenance
The updated NIE eligibility allows these individuals who were in certain countries within the last 14-days to enter the United States and bypass certain geographic COVID Presidential Proclamations. Those countries include the People’s Republic of China, Islamic Republic of Iran, Schengen Area, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Federal Republic of Brazil, and the Republic of South Africa.
Additionally, as of March 2nd, the U.S. State Department placed considerable new restrictions on business-related travel through the NIE program. As of that date, all NIE requests for business-related travel must demonstrate vital support for critical infrastructure in the United States, which refers to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) memorandum from March 2020. Travel must be directly related to critical infrastructure and must be designed to directly support critical infrastructure. Importantly, general business travel has been generally curtailed by this policy change.
The U.S. State Department has announced that its plans to continue to provide additional services and updates until it can resume routine visa services. According to the phased resumption of visa services guidance, the State Department’s top priorities are U.S. citizens, immediate family members of U.S. citizens, minor children of U.S. citizens, fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens and certain special immigrant visa applicants.
The National Interest Exception is not a visa, and those eligible must be a visa holder/applicant or be ESTA approved. At BridgehouseLaw, our immigration team has seen recent success over the past few weeks, getting 20+ NIEs approved during that time. Please contact our immigration team to determine whether your business needs fit the current NIE request requirements.
Please note that each NIE request is unique to the client’s specific needs, business, and activities, therefore, each is determined on its own facts, circumstances, and merits. NIE approvals for one or more clients should not and does not mean your NIE request will be approved, and you should not expect NIE approval based on our recent NIE results.
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Reinhard von Hennigs