Expiration of H/L/J Travel Ban & Continued Visa Obstacles
The Trump era “H/L/J” travel ban that was most recently extended through March 31, 2021 expired last night at midnight.
This positive development means that there are no longer any nonimmigrant visa category-based U.S. travel bans in effect. Now, individuals seeking H-1B, L-1, and J-1 visas and their dependents can apply for visa stamping without needing to demonstrate the stringent criteria to qualify under the National Interest Exception (NIE).
However, the health-based, country-specific COVID-19 U.S. travel bans discussed in our previous update remain in place. Individuals subject to these country-specific bans may still need to qualify under an NIE to obtain a visa or travel directly to the United States.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association’s (AILA) Department of State Liaison Committee advises that consular posts will continue reopening in phases as local conditions allow. AILA also indicates that consular posts will be prioritizing the processing of immigrant visa (permanent residency) applications. This combined with limited operational capacity at most U.S. consulates and built-up demand for H/L/J visas will likely result in continued, limited availability of nonimmigrant visa appointments for the near future.
Importantly, travelers should remain cognizant of the above health-based bans and their exceptions, because even layovers in restricted countries may prevent entry into the United States. It is also imperative that all travelers comply with the Center for Disease Control’s order, requiring a negative COVID-19 test or evidence of recent recovery when arriving by air to the United States.
While these are positive steps towards reopening, many travel and immigration restrictions continue to exist and evolve. Please confer with our office prior to international travel to avoid potential complications on return.