Coronavirus Country-Based Travel Bans: Who Is Blocked From Entering the U.S.?

Complete list of countries from which travel to the United States is barred owing to coronavirus concerns.

By , J.D.

In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and the difficulties in screening incoming travelers, the U.S. government (originally the Trump administration, then the Biden administration) issued various proclamations restricting travel from various countries to the United States. These were or are, for the most part, countries with serious COVID-19 outbreaks. The prohibitions typically affect people who've been in those countries within the 14 days prior to arriving and requesting U.S. entry.

This article will look at which countries are affected, and discuss who is and isn't subject to the bans.

Even If Your Country Isn't on the List, You Must Comply With COVID-Related Rules

All travelers to the United States should check into the latest rules and restrictions meant to halt the spread of COVID-19. The Department of State's page on Requirements for Air Travelers to the U.S. is a good starting place.

For one, in December of 2021, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) ordered that all air travelers to the U.S. get a viral test (a test for current infection) the day before their flight, and provide written documentation of the result (paper or electronic copy) to the airline.

This includes not only immigrants or visa holders, but U.S. citizens and permanent residents. The airlines will be expected to deny boarding to any passenger who does not provide documentation of a negative test or recovery or chooses not to take a test.

In addition, the CDC ordered in November of 2021 that air passengers arriving from a foreign country to the United States by air who are not citizens or permanent residents will need to show proof of having been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Also bear in mind that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials will continue to screen entrants from all countries around the globe, and can individually declare someone inadmissible for health or other reasons.

Countries Facing COVID-19 Travel Restrictions

Here is the list of countries from which travel is barred for an indefinite time as of November 28, 2021, as President Biden announced in response to concern over the omicron variant:

  • South Africa
  • Botswana
  • Zimbabwe
  • Namibia
  • Lesotho
  • Eswatini
  • Mozambique, and
  • Malawi.

Most non-U.S. citizens who were in those countries within the prior 14 days will not be allowed into the United States.

This ban is scheduled to be lifted on December 31, 2021.

Countries Whose Travel Bans Were Lifted

These countries have faced past COVID-based travel bans:

  • Europe's Schengen area, including Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
  • United Kingdom (excluding overseas territories outside of Europe) and the Republic of Ireland.
  • Republic of South Africa (except that this was reinstituted in November 2021)
  • Federative Republic of Brazil.
  • People's Republic of China, excluding the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau (continuation of a January 31, 2020, proclamation signed by Trump)
  • Iran (continuation of a February 29, 2020 proclamation signed by Trump)
  • India (most recent proclamation, signed by President Biden).

Who Has a Continued Right to Enter (or Return to) the U.S. Despite Being From a Banned Country

These travel bans are ordinarily drafted so that they do not affect most U.S. citizens and residents and families, including:

  • U.S. citizens and their spouses
  • U.S. lawful permanent residents (green card holders) and their spouses
  • foreign national parents or legal guardians of unmarried U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents who are under age 21
  • foreign national siblings of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, if both are under age 21 and unmarried
  • foreign national children, foster children, or wards of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, or prospective adoptees seeking to enter the U.S. on an IR-4 or IH-4 visa
  • foreign nationals traveling at the invitation of the U.S. government for purposes related to containment or mitigation of the COVID-19 virus
  • foreign air or sea crewmembers
  • certain A, C, E-1 (TECRO or TECO), G, and NATO nonimmigrant visa holders
  • members of the U.S. armed forces and their spouses and children, and
  • any noncitizen whose entry would further important U.S. government feels would serve law enforcement objectives or be in the U.S. national interest.

Nevertheless, people in these groups can expect long waits at the airport or other port of entry to the U.S. and to be screened and possibly quarantined or asked to quarantine at home.

Who Doesn't Have a Right to U.S. Entry

Basically, anyone traveling from one of the above countries on a nonimmigrant (temporary) visa that's not one of the few visas listed above will be barred.

That includes, for example, travelers on the Visa Waiver program (VWP) or holding B visitor visas, F, M, or J student/exchange visitor visas, H-1B specialty technical worker visas, and so on.

It is possible for such travelers to get around the bar by spending a minimum of 14 days in a country from which travel is not barred. Be ready to provide proof of your minimum 14-day stay there, however.

Of course, the next immigration-law concern will be whether you still have a valid basis upon which to use your U.S. visa. If the school you were to attend is closed, or the company you were to work for has furloughed its employees, you might not be able to enter or maintain valid status under that visa.

Requesting an Individual Exception or Waiver

It's possible to ask the U.S. government to make an exception to a travel bar or the testing requirement, if your entry would either:

  • not pose a risk of transmitting the virus, as determined by the CDC
  • further important U.S. law enforcement objectives
  • in the case of the testing requirement, be for humanitarian reasons; but the person or organization must show both exigent circumstances where emergency travel is required to preserve health and safety (such as emergency medical evacuations) and that it's impossible to access or complete predeparture testing before travel, or
  • be in the U.S. national interest.

Speak to an attorney for more information or to apply for one of these exceptions.

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