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

The latest restrictions affecting international travel to the United States 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, for the most part, countries with serious COVID-19 outbreaks. Fortunately, all such bans have now been lifted, though a few COVID-related travel restrictions remain, as discussed in this article.

All Travelers 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 Centers for Disease Control (CDC)'s page on International Travel is a good starting place.

For obvious reasons, the CDC states that travelers who are sick with or have tested positive for COVID-19 must not travel to the United States. Although testing in advance of travel is no longer required, the CDC recommends doing a viral test as close to your departure date as possible (but no more than three days before).

The most significant requirement, which the CDC added in November of 2021, is that air passengers arriving from a foreign country to the United States by air who are not citizens or permanent residents 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 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)
  • South Africa
  • Botswana
  • Zimbabwe
  • Namibia
  • Lesotho
  • Eswatini
  • Mozambique
  • Malawi.

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

These travel bans were ordinarily drafted so that they did 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 faced long waits at the airport or other port of entry to the U.S. to be screened and possibly quarantined or asked to quarantine at home.

Asylum Seekers at Southern U.S. Border Continue to Be Blocked Based on COVID-19

Since March 20, 2020, people wishing to apply for asylum in the United States (as is their right under U.S. and international law) have been turned away and "expelled" back to Mexico or their home countries. The legal basis is a little-known provision of U.S. health law called Title 42, meant to protect U.S. borders from public health threats.

The Biden administration attempting to cease applying Title 42 against asylum seekers in May of 2022, but a federal court in Louisiana blocked this action.

For more information, see Requesting Asylum at U.S. Border? What to Expect at Credible Fear Interview.

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