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.

What categories of travelers qualify for the exception?

The following categories of travelers can apply for the exception:

Please note that if you are an F-1/M-1 student and you hold a valid F or M visa you do not need to apply for a National Interest Exception. If you will be applying for an F-1 or M-1 visa and you qualify for the visa, the Consulate will automatically consider you for the National Interest Exception.

What is the purpose of the National Interest Exception?

The purpose of the NIE is to help the U.S. with the economic recovery due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Do I need to have a valid visa/ESTA if I want to apply for the NIE?

No, it is not necessary that you have a valid visa/ESTA.

If you don’t have a valid ESTA and you would like to apply for the national interest exception, it may be a good idea to also apply for an ESTA as it usually takes only a couple days to get the ESTA application approved and you can then let the Consulate know that you already have a valid ESTA (if the application gets approved).

If you want to apply for the national interest exception and you do not have a valid visa, then the Consulate will first need to approve your visa application. In such case, if you need to travel to the U.S. immediately, you should request an expedited visa appointment and explain how you qualify for the appointment. You should visit the website of the Consulate where you will be applying for more detailed instructions.

What kind of questions are on the National Interest Exception application?

This may depend on where you will be applying for the exception.

For example, the Consulate in London asks questions such as for how long you are planning to stay in the U.S., why do you need to travel to the U.S., why do you believe that the travel is time-sensitive so the exception should be granted, or why is your travel in the U.S. national interest. Additionally, you will have to fill in information such as your name and contact information. The Consulate will also ask if you are planning to self-isolate once you come to the U.S. and if so, to explain how you will do that (you should explain where you will stay, if and how you will be avoiding public transportation, etc.).

How do I qualify for a National Interest Exception?

When applying for a National Interest Exception, you will need to explain and demonstrate:

  • The reasons why you need to travel to the U.S.
  • Why is your travel time-sensitive
  • Why is your travel in the U.S. national interest
  • Why do you believe your travel will help the U.S. with economic recovery

I was granted a National Interest Exception. When do I have to enter the U.S.?

If your National Interest Exception is granted, the Consulate will send you instructions indicating that you will have to enter the U.S. within 30 days. The exception will also most likely be valid for only a single entry and if you leave the U.S. and then want to come back, you will need to apply for another exception.

Please note that you will have to fly into one of the airports listed here.

Do I have to fill in an application online or should I email the Consulate?

This will depend on the Consulate where you are applying. Some Consulates have National Interest Exception applications you will need to fill in and submit online (e.g. the U.S. Consulate in London) and other Consulates instruct you to email them. You should check the instructions of the Consulate where you will be applying to find the exact instructions.

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