The last seven days, encompassing the transition from the Trump Administration to the Biden Administration, have involved a flurry of executive actions relating to various travel bans and restrictions.

First, on January 12, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a requirement that all air passengers entering the United States from abroad, including U.S. citizens, get a viral test for COVID-19 within the 3 days before their flight to the U.S. departs, and provide written documentation of their laboratory test result (paper or electronic copy) to the airline or provide documentation of having recovered from COVID-19. Airlines must confirm the negative test result for all passengers or documentation of recovery before they board. If a passenger does not provide documentation of a negative test or recovery, or chooses not to take a test, the airline must deny boarding to the passenger. This order is to become effective on January 26, 2021.

In light of the CDC’s order, on January 18, 2021, as one of his last acts in office, President Trump issued Presidential Proclamation 10138, “Terminating  Suspensions  of  Entry  Into  the  United  States  of  Aliens  Who  Have  Been  Physically  Present  in  the  Schengen  Area,  the  United  Kingdom,  the  Republic  of  Ireland,  and  the  Federative  Republic  of  Brazil.” This presidential proclamation orders the termination of COVID/health-related travel restrictions on entry of certain travelers from the Schengen Area, U.K., Ireland, and Brazil, in effect lifting the travel “bans” that had been in place since early- to mid-2020 on travel to the U.S. for individuals who had been physically present in any of these geographic areas (though it leaves the restrictions active for China and Iran). This proclamation is scheduled to take effect (and thus the restrictions lifted) on January 26, 2021, aligning with the CDC’s order above requiring a negative COVID test for all air passengers to the U.S. from that date forward.

However, shortly after PP 10138 was released, the then-incoming Biden team swiftly announced that their administration did not intend to lift these restrictions on January 26, 2021 and in fact planned to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  Delivering on that promise, on January 25, 2021, President Biden signed a “Proclamation on the Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Non-Immigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting Coronavirus Disease,” which essentially extends the existing Brazil/UK/Ireland/Schengen Area travel restrictions indefinitely. Going forward, as had been the case for much of 2020, entry into the United States is suspended for most individuals who have been physically present within the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and/or Brazil during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States. This order is effective immediately, and will be re-evaluated by the Secretary of Health and Human Services on a monthly basis in order to recommend whether the President should continue, modify, or terminate these restrictions.

Notably, President Biden’s January 25th proclamation also adds South Africa to the list of restricted countries for travel purposes, in response to a new variant strain of the virus being recently discovered in South Arica. The applicable travel restrictions for individuals who have been physically present in South Africa do not take effect until January 30, 2021 (i.e., they do not apply to individuals on flights to the U.S. that depart prior to 12:01 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on January 30, 2021).

This latest proclamation appears to carve out the same exceptions that have been available to the existing version of the UK/Ireland/Schengen Area travel ban, although we are awaiting further guidance from the U.S. Department of State on that precise issue.

Our Immigration Law Practice Group includes immigration attorneys that work across New York state in our Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, Long Island, New York City, Rochester and Syracuse offices. Our immigration lawyers focus on strategies – including immigrant visas for permanent U.S. resident status and temporary visas for foreign nationals – to ensure that employers are able to hire, transfer, and retain the brightest and best non-U.S. talent.

If you have questions about how these changing travel rules may impact you, please contact any member of the Harris Beach immigration practice group.