Recently the U.S. government has made several proclamations to limit the entry to the United States for people who have been in countries with high coronavirus risk, known as geographic COVID-19 travel restrictions. As of June 24, 2021, the countries subject to the geographic COVID-19 travel restrictions are China, Iran, Ireland, Schengen Area, United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, South Africa, and India.¹
Similarly, the U.S. government has determined that the entry of certain travelers is would fall under National Interest Exceptions (“NIE”) to the geographic COVID-19 travel restrictions proclamations. Among the travelers included as NIE are F-1 students.
On June 24, 2021, the U.S. government updated the NIE requirements and established that F-1 students “are automatically considered for National Interest Exception (NIE) at the Port of Entry and do not require advance approval of a NIE from an embassy or consulate.”²
However, as mentioned by NAFSA (Association of International Educators), this statement establishes a 30-day condition for students who were present in China, Brazil, Iran, South Africa, or India and whose academic program begins on August 1, 2021:
“August 1, 2021/30-day condition for F-1 and M-1 students who were present in China, Brazil, Iran, South Africa, or India. F-1 and M-1 students who had been present in China, Brazil, Iran, South Africa, or India are subject to an August 1/30-day condition in order to activate the blanket NIE. “New or returning students present in China, Brazil, Iran, South Africa, or India may arrive no earlier than 30 days before the start of an academic program beginning August 1, 2021 or after, including optional practical training (OPT).”
The ambiguous wording creates confusion regarding returning continuing students who were present in those countries, since they will all likely have academic programs or OPT that “began” before August 1, 2021. That still leaves it up to the common sense of consular officers, airlines, and CBP to determine that “this can’t possibly mean that new students can come in but returning students or students on OPT can’t.”³
As the NAFSA advisory notes, it is not clear whether returning F-1 students, whether attending class or in OPT, are also limited to entry no earlier than 30 days before starting school or OPT employment. We recommend that students in this position contact their international student scholars advisors administering their SEVIS I-20s and request their input on this question.
¹See a complete list of countries affected by the geographic COVID-19 travel restrictions proclamations at COVID-19 Restrictions on U.S. Visas and Entry | NAFSA
²See a complete list of COVID-19 related Presidential Proclamations currently in effect, including the updated NIE at COVID-19 Travel Restrictions and Exceptions (state.gov)
³See a complete list of NIE policy statements and the current COVID-19 Restrictions on U.S. Visas and Entry | NAFSA
Most recent U.S. Department of State Extension of validity for National Interest Exceptions (NIEs) for Travelers from China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and India available here.