COVID-19-related travel bans still apply to several countries. However, on April 26, 2021, the U.S. Department of State announced an extension of the National Interest Exceptions (NIEs) to include the following countries:
- South Africa
- The U.K.
- The Schengen area
What does this mean for F-1 students in these countries?
Students with valid F-1 visas intending to begin or continue an academic program commencing August 1, 2021 or later do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual NIE to travel. They may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the start of their academic studies. 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; those applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 visa will automatically be considered for an NIE to travel.
Since the NIE announcement refers only to entry “no earlier than 30 days before the start of academic studies,” it is unclear how this may apply to students on F-1 OPT/STEM OPT who wish to re-enter the U.S. from one of these countries. We will provide an update if more information becomes available.
What about J-1 students in these countries?
The Department of State has indicated that current J-1 visa holders whose program begins after August 1, 2021 will need to apply for approval of an NIE through their local embassy before they can enter the U.S. Students applying for new J-1 visas should apply for an NIE through their embassy after their visa is approved.