U.S. Travel and Immigration Restrictions Related to the Covid-19 Crisis

Due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, travel to the United States and the possibility to get a U.S. visa or to extend an existing visa, including an employment visa, are currently severely limited. Which restrictions apply?

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Update March 2, 2021 from the Travel.State.Gov webpage

National Interest Exceptions for Certain Travelers from the Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland

On March 2, 2021, the Secretary of State rescinded the previous national interest determination regarding categories of travelers eligible for exceptions under Presidential Proclamation (PP) 10143 as related to the Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland.  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.

The Secretary of State also made a new national interest determination covering certain travelers seeking to provide vital support for critical infrastructure.  Travelers in these categories, as well as academics, students, and journalists for whom National Interest Exception (NIE) criteria has not changed, may qualify for NIEs to PP 10143 as related to the Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland.  No previously-issued visas or NIEs will be revoked due to the new policy.  Qualified travelers who are applying for or have valid visas or ESTA authorization may travel to the United States following the procedures below even as PP 10143 remains in effect.

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 NIE to travel.  Students seeking to apply for new F-1 or M-1 visas 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 an NIE to travel.

Travelers who wish to visit the United States to offer vital support to critical infrastructure sectors, as well as academics, J-1 students, and journalists who have a valid visa in the appropriate class, an ESTA authorization, or who are seeking to apply for a visa, and believe they may qualify for a National Interest Exception should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate before traveling.  If a National Interest Exception is approved, they may travel on either a valid visa or ESTA authorization, as appropriate.

The Department of State also continues to grant NIEs for qualified travelers seeking to enter the United States for purposes related to humanitarian travel, public health response, and national security.  These travelers and any others who believe their travel to be in the United States national interest should also review the website of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for instruction on how to contact them.  

We appreciate the transparency and concerted efforts of our European partners and allies to combat this pandemic and welcome the EU’s reciprocal action to allow key categories of essential travel to continue.

The following information is current as of January 4th , 2021 and subject to change. It is general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult with an immigration lawyer if you have specific questions regarding your own situation.


President Trump Extends Proclamation Suspending Entry of Certain Foreign Nationals Until March 31st 2021

Still in effect:

  • The Presidential Proclamation of March 11, 2020 de facto prohibits most Swiss citizens, as well as citizens of most other European countries, from traveling to the United States. The proclamation does not apply to Swiss citizens who are Legal Permanent Residents (“Green Card” holders) or certain close family members of U.S. Citizens or Legal Permanent Residents. It also does not apply to diplomatic personnel and employees of certain international organizations or to health care professionals who work on issues related to Covid-19.
  • The Presidential Proclamation of April 22, 2020 has, for at least 60 days, suspended the entry of immigrants to the U.S. who are considered to present a risk to the U.S. labor market. This proclamation halts the issuance of immigrant visas to certain beneficiaries of immigrant petitions (including immigrant petitions filed by an employer) but provides for exceptions for certain close family members of U.S. citizens (spouses, children) as well as for investors under the EB-5 program. The order only applies to individuals who are currently outside of the United States. Individuals who are already in the United States applying for a Green Card (so called “adjustment of status”) are not affected. Furthermore, these restrictions only apply to immigrant visas. Non-immigrant visas, such as the visitor visa B-1/B-2 or the work visas H-1B, L-1, E-1, E-2, O-1, J-1, etc., are not included under this presidential proclamation, although the proclamation notes that certain restrictions on non-immigrants may be instituted at a later point in time.
  • Swiss citizens who want to work in the U.S. based on an H-1B, L-1, or O-1 visa have to take into account that USCIS, the U.S. immigration agency, has suspended expedited processing on visa petitions for these categories. The approval of such a petition is a prerequisite for the issuance of a visa at a consulate. The processing of a visa petition will now take several months instead of a few weeks. This applies both to petitions for new visas as well as to extensions. In very rare cases USCIS may still expedite a petition based on a hardship.

General recommendations:

  • Do not try to travel to United States unless you are authorized to do so. The U.S. government is strictly enforcing all travel restrictions. Even the attempt to violate any travel restrictions may have severe consequences for future visa applications.
  • As of January 26th 2021 a CDC issued order requires all air passengers arriving to the US from a foreign country to get tested no more than 3 days before their flight departs and to present the negative result or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 to the airline before boarding the flight.
  • Plan ahead: The process to apply for a new visa or to extend an existing visa can currently easily take six months or longer.
  • If you are currently in the U.S. on a work visa, such as an H-1B, L-1, E-1, E-2, or O-1, you may be eligible for an extension of status, i.e. you may be able to extend your legal status while staying in the U.S. and you may be granted an automatic 240-day extension even if your application for extension has not yet been approved.
  • If you are currently in the U.S. on an E-1 or E-2 visa be sure to also check online for the expiration date of your I-94. The I-94 may be valid beyond the expiration date of your visa, which means that you can remain and continue to work in the U.S. until the date listed on the I-94, even if your visa has expired.  

Please refer to the US embassy in Bern webpage before making any final travel plans.

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