Can I apply for the National Interest Exception if I have ESTA or do I have to have a valid B-1 visa?

By November 18, 2020Covid 19
Creative Commons photo by Wilerson S. Andrade - labeled for reuse. https://www.flickr.com/photos/will_spark/8603567984

In July 2020, the Department of State announced that certain business and student travelers coming from Schengen countries or the U.K. (such as B-1 business visitors), treaty traders, or treaty investors may apply for a  National Interest Exception (“NIE”). The NIE allows such travelers to travel to the United States even with the travel bans remaining in effect.

Hypo: You are a national of Germany and you currently do not hold a valid B-1 visa. You want to apply for a NIE so you can enter the U.S. as a business visitor as you have some urgent business meetings you need to attend.

Sometimes, potential clients reach out to us and think that in the scenario above, they have to first apply for a B-1 visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad and only then they can apply for the NIE and come to the U.S.

The truth is that you don’t have to hold a B-1 visa/apply for a B-1 visa at a U.S. Consulate if you qualify for an ESTA . Many of our clients/potential clients are confused by this as they think that ESTA is only for people who want to enter the U.S. as tourists, but that is not true. You can enter the U.S. on ESTA as a business visitor and you can engage in the same activities you could engage into if you entered the U.S. as a B-1 business visitor.

Please see the activities you can engage in in the U.S. as a WB ESTA visitor/B-1 business visitor when you click here and here

The same reasoning also applies to the situation when someone wants to apply for a NIE – you don’t need a B-1 visa to apply for a NIE and you can apply for a NIE when you hold a valid ESTA.

This means, that if you want to apply for a NIE and you qualify for an ESTA, you should apply for an ESTA first (ESTAs are usually approved within couple hours/days) and then apply for the NIE at a U.S. Consulate abroad (this is usually done via email).

If you qualify for an ESTA, we currently would not recommend applying for a B-1 visa at a U.S. Consulate as the Consulates still only provide limited services and it may take some time for you to get an interview and get the B-1 visa approved.

Please see our blog post on whether you can apply for an ESTA during Covid when you click here.

Please see our blog post on whether your ESTA will be cancelled if you try to enter during Covid when you click here

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