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Can I apply for a National Interest Exception at a CBP office at the airport? Do I need to apply through a U.S. Consulate abroad first? What is the procedure?

By January 5, 2021March 29th, 2021COVID-19, Immigration
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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. For more information on how to apply and what documents to bring with you, please click here. As we mentioned in our earlier blog post , you can either apply for the National Interest Exception either at:

  • a U.S. Consulate in country where you are currently located, or
  • you can apply for a National Interest exception at a Port of Entry (CBP office) at certain U.S. airports.

Since the National Interest Exception was first introduced in summer 2020, the procedure at certain U.S. airports have changed significantly.

Initially, you could have decided whether you would like to submit the NIE request at a Consulate or CBP office, and there was no requirement that you first have to contact a U.S. Consulate and only then you can reach out to a CBP office.

Currently, many CBP offices require that you first contact a U.S. Consulate abroad, and only if you do not hear back from the Consulate, you can reach out to the CBP office at the airport you are planning to fly through.

To demonstrate that you have already contacted a U.S. Consulate abroad, you will need to submit evidence showing that you reached out to a Consulate abroad, you followed up, and you have not heard back (such as screenshots of emails).

For example, starting November 18, 2020 the CBP offices at the JFK and Newark airport require that you first contact a U.S. Consulate abroad, wait for an answer, follow up with the Consulate, and reach out to the CBP office only if it has been at least 14 days since submitting the NIE request to a Consulate. JFK and Newark airport have an exception to this procedure (you can contact them less than 14 days after you contacted the U.S. Consulate, but you will have to demonstrate an emergency reason).

Another airport that requires NIE applicants to first reach out to a Consulate is the CBP office at the San Francisco International Airport. This office however does not specify how many days you have to wait to contact the CBP office (so you could try to submit your NIE request at the San Francisco airport even if it has been shorter than 14 days from your NIE submission to a Consulate).

Other Ports of Entry such as for example Atlanta or Chicago do not require that you first contact a U.S. Consulate abroad, and you can reach out to them directly.

Please keep in mind that every CBP office has a different procedure as to whether or not you can reach out to them without contacting the Consulate first, how many days in advance of your flight you should contact them, and what documents you should submit.

When applying for a NIE through a CBP office, we recommend also submitting a flight ticket with your NIE request to demonstrate that you already have travel plans and plan to fly through a particular airport. Please also note that the NIE approval at a CBP office is only valid for that particular office. For example, if you apply for a NIE request through the Atlanta airport, it is only valid for the Atlanta airport, and if you would try to enter the U.S. through JFK, you would be denied an entry.

Please see our blog post on National Interest Exception when you click here.

Please click here to find out whether you can apply for the NIE with your ESTA or whether you need a U.S. visa. Please click here to read our tips on boarding a plane with the NIE waiver.

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