The Department of State announced exemptions for certain travelers from COVID-19-related restrictions based on the national interest:

  • On February 10, 2021, the Department of State (DOS) announced that certain business travelers, investors, treaty traders, academics, students, and journalists may qualify for national interest exceptions under the Presidential Proclamation (PP) covering travelers from the Schengen Area, United Kingdom (UK), and Ireland. Qualified travelers who are applying for or have valid visas or Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) may travel to the United States while the PP remains in effect following the procedures below, DOS said.
  • Also, on January 28, 2021, DOS announced that certain H-2 travelers from South Africa may qualify for national interest exceptions.

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 national interest exception 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. Applicants who are otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for a national interest exception to travel.

Business travelers, investors, academics, J-1 students, journalists, and treaty traders who have a valid visa in the appropriate class or an ESTA authorization issued before the PP’s effective date, 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.

“Granting national interest exceptions for this travel to the United States from the Schengen area, UK, and Ireland, will assist with the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and bolster key components of our transatlantic relationship,” DOS said.

H-2A and certain H-2B travelers who have been present in South Africa may qualify for national interest exceptions “if they are providing temporary labor or services essential to the United States food supply chain.” A non-exhaustive list of covered occupations includes seafood processors, fish cutters, salmon roe technicians, farm equipment mechanics, and agriculture equipment operators. Applicants applying for a visa will be considered for an exception at the time of interview, DOS said. “Travelers who already hold valid H-2A or food-supply-chain related H-2B visas and believe they meet the exception criteria should follow the procedures set forth on the Embassy/Consulate website where their visa was processed for consideration for an exception,” DOS said. The exception criteria only apply to H-2 travelers and applicants subject to a January 25, 2021, Presidential Proclamation due to physical presence in South Africa.

DOS said it continues to grant national interest exceptions for qualified travelers seeking to enter the United States for purposes related to humanitarian travel, public health response, and national security.

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