With daily news reports of India’s current COVID crisis worsening, President Biden issued a Presidential Proclamation, effective May 4, 2021, suspending entry to the United States from India for individuals in temporary immigration statuses who have been present in India within the prior 14-day period. The travel restriction does not apply to US citizens or permanent residents or certain relatives of citizens and permanent residents. The Proclamation will remain in effect indefinitely, ending only upon termination by the president.

Economic Travel Suspensions End; Geographic Travel Suspensions Expand

With the change in presidential administrations, travel suspensions which created bars to entry to the United States for many immigration categories that were justified on the basis of economic protection have either been revoked or allowed to expire. (Details of these developments are set out in our February 25, 2021 and April 5, 2021 posts, Biden Administration Revokes Order Suspending Entry into the United States by New Green Card Holders | International Compliance Blog (steptoeinternationalcomplianceblog.com) and Entry Suspension on Temporary Work Visa Categories Ended | International Compliance Blog (steptoeinternationalcomplianceblog.com).) Conversely, health related travel suspensions which limit entry to the United States from designated countries or regions have expanded, with India being the latest addition.

Entry from India Restricted in Temporary Immigration Categories

President Biden issued the most recent Presidential Proclamation suspending travel on April 30, 2021. Entitled “A Proclamation on the Suspension of Entry as Nonimmigrants Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting Coronavirus Disease 2019,” the Proclamation prohibits entry into the United States by certain foreign nationals who were physically present in India within the preceding 14 days of their attempted US entry. It became effective on May 4, 2021 and will remain in effect until it is terminated by the president based upon recommendations from the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Proclamation applies to many foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States in a temporary immigration status. Its scope includes common employment-based non-immigrant (temporary) categories, such as H-1B,  L-1A/B, and O-1. It also includes the B-1/B-2 visitor category. There are, however, important blanket National Interest Exceptions (NIE) for certain F-1 and M-1 students and J-1 exchange visitors, explained, below.

Suspension Does Not Apply to US Citizens, Permanent Residents and Certain of Their Relatives

The India travel suspension only applies to temporary, non-immigrant, immigration categories. It does not apply to travel by:

  • US Citizens
  • Lawful permanent residents of the United States
  • Spouses and minor children of US citizens or US lawful permanent residents
  • Siblings of US citizens or US lawful permanent residents, if both are single and under 21
  • Parents of US citizens or US lawful permanent residents who are single and under 21
  • Fiancé(e)s of US citizens in the K-1 category.

National Interest Exceptions: Including F-1 and M-1 Students and J-1 Exchange Visitors

The Proclamation contains exceptions for individuals whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Department of State (DOS). The DOS has determined that it is in the national interest to permit entry by F-1 and M-1 students, if their programs begin on August 1, 2021 or later. There are additional blanket exceptions for designated J-1 exchange visitors, pilots and aircrew, and journalists. These individuals do not need to specifically request a NIE, as the DOS has pre-determined that entry by individuals eligible for these categories is in the national interest.

In addition to the blanket exceptions to the Proclamation, there are also exceptions for individuals who are working to provide vital support for key US infrastructure. These individuals must apply for and document their eligibility for an NIE, which became more restrictive in March 2021. NIEs, if issued, are valid only for a single entry to the United States within a 30-day window.

Suspension Does Not Apply to Individuals Currently in the United States

The Proclamation limits entry into the United States from India. It does not limit the ability of Indian nationals currently present in the United States to remain in the country under the terms of their current immigration statuses. It also does not prohibit Indian nationals from extending or changing their immigration status within the United States if they are otherwise eligible to do so.  Indian nationals who are currently in the United States need to review the restrictions that apply to their status carefully when considering travel to India. Indian nationals who fall within the restricted categories may be unable to return to the United States after travel to India, at least for the time being.

Travel to the United States Remains Restricted for Many: All Require COVID Tests

The addition of India to the list of countries under US travel suspensions came as no surprise, given the severity of India’s current health crisis. India now joins China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland on the list of countries subject to such suspensions. All of these suspensions apply to entry to the United States within 14-days of having been physically within one of the designated countries. In addition to the travel suspensions, the United States also requires proof of a recent negative COVID test or COVID recovery in order to board a plane or otherwise enter the country.