COVID-19 Update: New Travel Restrictions for South Africa and Seven Other African Countries
Effective today, President Biden has imposed new travel restrictions on South Africa and seven other African countries due to the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
These new travel restrictions mark a partial return to the geographic-based travel bans that the Biden administration previously moved away from. On November 8, 2021, the administration implemented vaccination and testing requirements for foreign nationals that it hoped would eliminate the need for country-specific travel bans. But the emergence of the Omicron variant has the administration now utilizing both strategies to try and reduce the impact of this new variant.
Under these new travel restrictions, entry is suspended for persons physically present in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, or Zimbabwe within the 14 days prior to seeking entry into the U.S. Similar to the previous geographic travel-bans, limited exceptions apply, including but not limited to U.S. citizens, U.S. permanent residents, certain close family members of U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents, and individuals whose travel is in the U.S. national interest.
Importantly, these geographic travel restrictions are in addition to the COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirements currently in place. This means many travelers from these restricted African countries will require a National Interest Exception (NIE) to fly directly to the U.S. or conduct a two-week layover in non-restricted country prior to traveling to the U.S. When traveling to the U.S., evidence of vaccination and testing will still be required as discussed in our prior update.
These new travel restrictions are expected to immediately impact visa appointment availability in the affected countries. Our firm has received correspondence from the U.S. consulates in South Africa indicating routine visa appointments have now been cancelled through at least December 31, 2021. This means visa stamping applicants from restricted countries will likely require emergency appointments and need to demonstrate eligibility for an NIE. The Department of State has not announced the NIE criteria under this new travel ban, but we anticipate the standards will be similar to those used previously.
Given the uncertainty surrounding the Omicron COVID-19 variant and its possible spread, we recommend that individuals confer with our firm prior to international travel to ascertain the risks. The situation remains fluid with additional travel restrictions and/or visa appointment cancellations possible. Please contact the Houston immigration attorneys at Gee & Zhang LLP with questions about your international travel.