Department of State Updates Guidance for National Interest Waivers

August 10, 2020 | United States of America

The U.S. Department of State (DOS) has updated its guidance for individuals seeking national interest waivers (NIWs) due to COVID-19-related travel bans.

New guidance is in place for certain H-1B, H-2B, H-4, J-1, J-2, L-1, and L-2 visas, along with individuals aging out of their current immigration classifications.

On April 22, 2020 and June 22, 2020, President Trump issued presidential proclamations suspending entry into the U.S. for most foreign nationals through December 31, 2020. However, the proclamations provide some exceptions to the entry ban, including individuals who are traveling to the U.S. for public health response, national security, or humanitarian reasons.

For H-1Bs, exceptions are made for those traveling as healthcare or public health professionals to alleviate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic or perform ongoing medical research in areas with a public health benefit. For H-1Bs and H-2Bs, exceptions apply for individuals traveling to the U.S. by request of a U.S. government agency or entity. Exceptions are available for J-1 visas for individuals traveling to provide care for a minor U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or nonimmigrant in lawful status, along with caregivers for children whose parents are involved in medical care or research for COVID-19. Specialized teachers, interns and trainees for government agency-sponsored programs, certain exchange visitors, and people who are fulfilling critical foreign policy objectives may also qualify for a J-1 exception. Exceptions apply for individuals who hold J-1 visas if they are traveling as healthcare or public health professionals to mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Exceptions also apply to individuals with L-2, J-2, and H-4 visas who are traveling with a primary applicant (spouse or parent) who has received a national interest waiver. Applicants who are scheduled to age out of their current immigrant visa classifications before presidential proclamation 10014 expires, or within two weeks of its expiration, may receive an NIW.

Additionally, certain travelers from Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the Schengen Area may be eligible for an NIW under Presidential Proclamation 9993 (Schengen Area) and Presidential Proclamation 9996 (UK and Ireland). Qualified students and business travelers may travel to the U.S. while the presidential proclamations remain in effect, provided they have, or are applying for, valid visas and ESTA authorization. Students traveling from the UK, Ireland, or the Schengen Area with valid M-1 and F-1 visas do not have to contact a Consulate or Embassy for a national interest waiver. Individuals who are qualified for an M-1 or F-1 visa will automatically receive consideration for an NIW, even if they have not yet applied for an F-1 or an M-1 visa. Individuals who believe they qualify for an NIW and want to apply for a visa, or who have a valid visa or an ESTA authorization issued before the presidential proclamations became effective, should contact the closest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Individuals who believe they may qualify for an NIW can request a visa application appointment at the nearest Consulate or Embassy. A decision will be made during the interview about the individual’s eligibility for an NIW.