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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Shaffer, Esq.

New COVID-19 Omicron Variant US Travel Ban - Planning Your Trip to the US

Updated: Dec 15, 2021

Summary: Biden instituted a new set of COVID-19 travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant, adding many Southern African nations to the list of banned countries. Here is how you can get around the ban:

What Does The New Ban Mean?

US President Joe Biden has instituted a new COVID-19 travel ban that is very similar to the original COVID-19 travel bans.

The new travel ban restricts entry for anyone who has been to the following countries within 14 days of their arrival to the US:

  • Botswana

  • Eswatini

  • Lesotho

  • Malawi

  • Mozambique

  • Namibia

  • South Africa

  • Zimbabwe

This travel ban is not targeted at people who are nationals of any of the countries listed above; it simply applies to anyone physically in any of the countries, regardless of their nationality. Importantly, this travel ban includes people who have transited through any of these countries, even if they were only in an airport for a few hours to get on a connecting flight. For example, if you are a citizen of South Africa and you have been in Uganda for more than 14 days, you are not subject to the ban from the 15th day onward. However, if you are a citizen of Uganda and you have been in South Africa (or any other banned country) for any period of time (even a short flight transit) in the last 14 days, you are subject to the ban until you spend at least 14 days in a non-banned country.

There are exceptions to the travel ban. Exceptions include anyone who is:

  • A lawful permanent resident of the US (green card holder)

  • A noncitizen spouse of a US citizen or lawful permanent resident

  • A noncitizen who is the parent or legal guardian of a US citizen or lawful permanent resident who is under the age of 21

  • A noncitizen who is the sibling of a US citizen or lawful permanent resident if both are unmarried and under the age of 21

  • A noncitizen who is the child, foster child, or ward of a US citizen or lawful permanent resident, or who is a prospective adoptee seeking to enter the US pursuant to the IR-4 or IH-4 visa classifications

  • A noncitizen traveling at the invitation of the US Government to fight COVID-19

  • A noncitizen traveling on a C-1, D, or C-1/D visa as a crew member

  • A noncitizen traveling to the US as air or sea crew

  • A noncitizen seeking entry into or transiting the US on an A-1, A-2, C-2, C-3 visa (as a foreign government official or immediate family member of an official), E-1 (as a member of TECRO or TECO or the employee’s immediate family members), G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1 through NATO-4, or NATO-6 (or seeking to enter as a nonimmigrant in one of those NATO categories)

  • A noncitizen whose travel falls within the scope of section 11 of the UN Headquarters Agreement

  • A noncitizen who is a member of US Armed Forces and any noncitizen who is a spouse or child of a member of the US Armed Forces

  • A noncitizen whose entry would further important US law enforcement objectives, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees, based on a recommendation of the Attorney General or his designee

  • A noncitizen whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their designees. Many embassies are processing these national interest exceptions for travelers who do not fall into any of the exceptions listed above. Travelers who are applying for or have a valid visa or ESTA may apply for a national interest exception to that ban by contacting the embassy with jurisdiction over their current place of residence. Shaffer Immigration Law is able to assist you in applying for a national interest exception.

How Can I Get Around The Ban?

Even if you currently live in one of these banned countries and do not fall into one of the exceptions, you can circumvent the travel ban and come to the US by spending 14 days in a non-banned country. For example, if you currently live in South Africa, you can travel to the EU or Dubai for 14 days, and then get a direct flight to the US. Make sure your flight does not have a connection through a banned country, because even a layover in one of those countries will make you subject to the ban again.

We recommend that you bring proof of your having stayed in a non-banned country for the past 14 days to the US border with you. This can include your original plane ticket leaving the banned country, your passport stamp into the non-banned country, and receipts from your accommodations.

Warning to those traveling on ESTA (Visa Waiver Program): There have been reports of ESTAs being automatically cancelled if the flight to the US is scheduled before or during a traveler's 14-day stay in a non-banned country. In order to maintain your ESTA, you should schedule your flight to the US AFTER your 14-day stay in a non-banned country.

COVID Vaccine and Negative COVID-19 Test Rule

Additionally, every traveler to the US needs to have an approved COVID-19 vaccine and proof of a negative COVID-19 test result before boarding their flight.

We Can Help!

If you would like to have an immigration attorney review your specific itinerary or situation:

Disclaimer: This post is attorney advertising. It is meant as general information only, and is not legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. We suggest you set up a consultation with us before acting on anything you read here. Past results do not guarantee future outcomes; every case is unique and must be analyzed individually.


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