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Biden Unveils New Vaccination and Testing Requirements for All Air Travelers to US

The Biden Administration just announced that starting November 8, 2021 there will be stricter vaccine and COVID testing requirements for all air travelers into the US.
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The new rule eliminates all the regional COVID travel restrictions placed on travelers from the Schengen area, UK, Ireland, China, Iran, India, Brazil, and South Africa.

Here are the basics of the new rule for air travel into the US starting November 8.

US Citizens and Green Card Holders

Those fully vaccinated from COVID-19 can board the plane to the US with proof of vaccination and a negative COVID test taken within 3 days prior to travel. All those that are unvaccinated must show a negative COVID test from a sample taken within 1 day of the flight in order to board the plane to the US. Travelers with a 1-day requirement may want to take an over-the-counter self-test with them on their trip to help ensure they are able to get the results in a timely manner.

Temporary Foreign National Visitors

Foreign nationals entering the US with temporary visas (such as tourist visas, student visas, and work visas) must show proof that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and a negative COVID test taken from a sample taken within the last 3 days, with very limited exceptions. The exceptions include children under 18, certain COVID-19 clinical trial participants, those with rare medical contraindications to the COVID vaccines, those who have been granted an exception by the Director of the CDC for emergency or humanitarian reasons, and those entering on a visa that is not a B-1 (business visitor) or B-2 (tourist) visa and are from countries with limited vaccine availability (as shown by less than 10% of the total population being fully vaccinated). 

Those unvaccinated and who enter with an exemption must agree to comply with public health precautions. Based on the category of the exception, the traveler may be required to agree to be tested with a COVID-19 viral test 3–5 days after arrival in the United States, to self-quarantine for a full 7 days, and to self-isolate if the result of the post-arrival test is positive or if s/he develops COVID-19 symptoms. In addition, if the traveler intends to stay in the US for longer than 60 days, s/he may have to show that s/he has arranged to become fully vaccinated against COVID-19 within 60 days of arriving in the United States, or as soon thereafter as is medically appropriate, unless (for children) they are too young to be vaccinated, the vaccine is medically contraindicated for them, or the Director of the CDC otherwise determines that a vaccine is not warranted in that case.

To prove a medical contraindication, the traveler must show a letter from a licensed physician documenting the medical contraindication to the airline operator before boarding a flight to the United States. The letter must be on official letterhead that contains the contact information of a licensed healthcare provider, must clearly state that the traveler has a medical contraindication to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine and name the COVID-19 vaccine product and the medical condition, and the traveler’s personally identifiable information (at a minimum full name and date of birth) to confirm that the letter matches with his/her passport.

To apply for an exemption for emergency or humanitarian reasons, the traveler must show that the travel is required to preserve his/her health and safety (e.g., emergency medical evacuations) and is unable to access or complete the vaccination requirement before travel. Individuals applying for this exception should contact the US embassy or consulate in or nearest to the country from which they are departing for the United States. The embassy will then transmit this information to the CDC for consideration.

The list of countries with limited vaccine availability can be found here.

Accepted Vaccines

An individual is considered fully vaccinated: (a) 14 days after an accepted single-dose COVID-19 vaccine (Janssen/J&J), (b) 14 days after a second dose of an accepted 2-dose series (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Covishield, BIBP/Sinopharm, Sinovac), (c) 14 days after receiving the full series of an active (not placebo) COVID-19 vaccine in the US-based AstraZeneca or Novavax COVID-19 vaccine trials, and (d) 14 days after receiving 2 doses of any “mix-and-match” combination of accepted COVID-19 vaccines administered at least 17 days apart. 

Proof of Vaccination

Air travelers will be required to show airline personnel proof of vaccination prior to boarding. Such proof can be a paper record, a photo of a paper record, or a digital record. Examples include vaccination certificate with QR code1, digital pass via Smartphone application with QR code1 (e.g., United Kingdom National Health Service COVID Pass, European Union Digital COVID Certificate), printout of COVID-19 vaccination record, or a COVID-19 vaccination certificate issued at national or subnational level or by an authorized vaccine provider (e.g., the CDC vaccination card), digital photos of vaccination card or record, downloaded vaccine record or vaccination certificate from an official source (e.g., public health agency, government agency, or other authorized vaccine provider), and a mobile phone application without QR code. All proofs of vaccination must have personal identifiers (at a minimum, full name, and date of birth) that match the personal identifiers on the passenger’s passport, name of official source issuing the record (e.g., public health agency, government agency, or other authorized vaccine provider), and vaccine manufacturer and date(s) of vaccination. If documents are not in English, the traveler should check with his/her airline operator before travel to see if a translation is required.

Contact Tracing & Attestation Forms

All air travelers will be required to complete contact tracing and attestation forms before boarding the plane to the US. Travelers will be required to provide at least their full name, phone number, email, and address where they can be reached in the US. They will also have to sign an attestation swearing to the completeness and accuracy of their testing, vaccination, and contact information. 

Children Under Two

Children under 2 are exempt from COVID testing requirements. All other children must follow the testing requirements above. 

Canada

Air travel from Canada will follow the rules above. Regarding entry through land and ferry points of entry (POE), there will be a two-phase approach. First, starting November 8th, “non-essential” travel (such as tourism) by foreign nationals will reopen, but only to those who can show proof that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.  “Essential” travel will continue to be permitted with no change to current protocols, and no vaccination proof will be required. US citizens and green card holders are considered “essential” travelers.  Second, beginning in early January 2022, all inbound foreign national travelers crossing US land or ferry POE’s – whether for essential or non-essential reasons – must prove that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This phased approach will provide time for essential travelers such as truckers, students, and healthcare workers to get vaccinated.

National Interest Exceptions & Visa Issuance

Since the new rule eliminates the regional COVID travel restrictions, the National Interest Exceptions (NIE’s) (which were a way to apply for an exception from these travel restrictions) are also eliminated effective November 8. Many foreign nationals in COVID-travel-restricted countries used the NIE system to obtain expedited visa appointments. That will not be available after November 8. Going forward, they will have to request an “emergency” appointment (assuming adequate emergency circumstances exist). This will be challenging for foreign travelers (and US employers needing their foreign national workers in the US) since US Consulates and Embassies still have limited visa services due to the pandemic, and it has been taking long periods of time (often several months) to secure a visa appointment. Foreign nationals should use the interview waiver system whenever they are eligible so that they can renew their visas through the mail/dropbox rather than waiting for an in-person visa appointment. Individuals are generally eligible for this if they are applying to renew a visa in the same category, at the same Consulate/Embassy, and the prior visa is valid or expired within the last 24 months. 

Travel and visa procedures are ever-changing. Individuals should check then-current procedures before traveling.

Contacts

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