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New COVID-19 Vaccination Requirements and Travel Guidance Announced by White House

Labor & Employment, Immigration Timothy C. D'Arduini , Andrew Kuntz

On Monday, September 20, 2021, the White House announced that beginning in early November the Administration will be putting strict protocols in place to require foreign nationals travelling to the United States by air to be fully vaccinated. A formal policy has yet to be announced.

In light of the forthcoming policy, the White House also indicated that in early November it will be rescinding its policies, implemented under INA § 212(f), which restricted travel to the United States from China, India, the Schengen Area (most European countries), U.K., Ireland, Brazil, Iran, and South Africa.

Below we have provided guidance on frequently asked questions that your business and employees may have regarding the announcement based on a Statement and Q&A provided by the White House. We will provide updates as soon as a formal policy and more information are available. If you have any further questions, please contact the team at Quarles & Brady.

What are the requirements under the new policy?

The White House has stated that under the new policy foreign nationals travelling to the United States by air will be required to:

  • Show proof of full vaccination prior to boarding the airplane.
  • Show proof of a negative COVID test taken within 3 days of boarding, which is consistent with the current COVID-19 testing requirement.
  • Provide airlines with comprehensive contact information so the Center for Disease Control (CDC) can implement contact tracing measures pursuant to the CDC’s anticipated Contact Tracing Order.

Which vaccines will be accepted?

The White House has stated that it will look to CDC guidance to decide which vaccines will be accepted. We will provide additional updates when CDC provides such guidance.

When does the new policy take effect?

The White House indicated that the new policy will be effective in early November but has not given an exact date.

What if I need to travel to the United States from a restricted country prior to the effective date?

The Presidential Proclamations restricting travel to the United States from China, India, the Schengen Area (most European countries), U.K., Ireland, Brazil, Iran, and South Africa remain in effect. Foreign nationals who must travel from those countries to the United States prior to recission of the Proclamations must still fall under one of the exemptions articulated by the White House or apply for a National Interest Exception.

What does this mean for travelers from the restricted countries who previously needed a National Interest Exception to travel to the United States?

When the new policy takes effect, foreign nationals traveling to the United States who previously required a National Interest Exception will no longer require an exception. However, these travelers will be required to comply with the vaccination, testing, and contact tracing requirements implemented by the new policy.

What does this mean for those who travel using visa-free options, including ESTA and the Visa Waiver Program?

When the new policy takes effect, foreign nationals who travel using visa-free options will no longer require National Interest Exceptions. However, these travelers will be required to comply with the vaccination, testing, and contact tracing requirements implemented by the new policy.

Does the new policy apply to U.S. nationals travelling to the United States?

The policy will not apply to Americans travelling to the United States; however, the White House has indicated that:

"CDC will continue to strongly recommend against air travel by Americans who are not fully vaccinated; however, all unvaccinated travelers who return to the United States and are not fully vaccinated will be required to, prior to boarding an airplane:

  • Provide proof of a negative test result taken within one day of their departure;
  • Provide proof that they have purchased a viral test to be taken after arrival.”

Will there be any exceptions to the vaccination requirement?

A White House official also indicated that “exceptions will be very narrow, such as for children; COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial participants; and humanitarian exceptions for people traveling for an important reason and who lack access to vaccination in a timely manner.”

There may also be “very limited exceptions” for those who agree to receive a vaccination once they arrive in the United States. We are awaiting guidance from the government to better understand what circumstances may permit such an exception.

Additionally, the White House has initially indicated that unvaccinated travelers will be required to undergo a post-arrival COVID-19 test, the particulars of which will be laid out in an updated Global Testing Order that the CDC will be issuing.

What are the implications of this policy on countries with low vaccine access?

The White House also advised stakeholders that:

  • "We believe that the vast majority of people who can travel internationally to the U.S. will be able to access a vaccine.
  • For those who have a compelling and urgent reason to come to the United States and are not able to access a vaccine in a timely manner prior to departure, we will have in place very limited exceptions for which they can apply.
  • And we will be requiring that people who receive these very limited exceptions agree to get vaccinated upon arrival."

Until the White House policy takes effect, we cannot predict the practical effects of the policy for foreign nationals travelling to the United States from countries with low vaccine access. Nor can we predict the potential issues that may arise in overseeing the process for receiving an exception.

We will provide updates regarding the policy’s effects and the process for applying for exceptions as more information becomes available.

Does the new policy affect land travel into the United States?

The policy only relates to air travel. The White House has indicated that it will extend the current travel restrictions at the Mexican and Canadian border crossings through October 21, 2021.

Can we expect that foreign nationals will be able to secure visa appointments more easily once the government’s new policy is implemented?

We expect continued delays for securing visa appointments in light of the appointment backlogs that exist at Department of State consulates throughout the globe. Foreign nationals, with the support of their employers, may be able to request expedited appointments for extraordinary circumstances, including critical business needs for travel and humanitarian reasons.

For more information on your business immigration needs or the forthcoming policy on international travel, please contact your local Quarles & Brady attorney or: