- The US has added further exemptions for foreign travellers looking to enter that country amid its ongoing travel ban.
- Under the National Interest Exceptions protocol, certain visa holders and exchange visitors may travel to the US.
- This applies to specialised teachers and au pairs in South Africa.
- It also includes immigrant and fiancé(e) K-1 visas, which require a US citizen sponsor.
The United States has expanded its list of National Interest Exceptions (NIE), which effectively exempt certain South Africans – with specific skills, jobs, and visas – from its ongoing travel ban.
It’s been three months since US President Joe Biden closed the country’s borders to travellers from South Africa. The decision to restrict travel was associated with fears around the 501Y.V2 variantof Covid-19 first detected in the Eastern Cape.
Due to international concerns around the local prevalence of the 501Y.V2 variant – which is more transmissible and tougher to vaccinate against – South African travellers have become tightly restricted.
But while other countries have only afforded exemptions to returning citizens and permanent residents, the US has continuously updated its NIE list for purposes related to humanitarian travel, public health response, and national security.
Shortly after the travel ban was imposed on South Africa in January, the US Bureau of Consular Affairs announced that H-2A visa holders – defined as non-immigrant certification for temporary workers performing agricultural services – would be included as an NIE.
This exemption was particularly positive news for South Africans, who account for the highest number of H-2A visa holders outside of Mexico.
On Thursday, the US added further exemptions via its NIE protocol.
South Africans holding valid immigrant or fiancé(e) K-1 visas are now allowed to enter the US. This applies to foreign citizens who are sponsored by direct relatives living in the US or by a prospective US-based employer. It also permits a foreign-citizen fiancé(e) to travel to the US and marry his or her US citizen sponsor within 90 days of arrival.
Visa applicants have, however, been warned of backlogs at embassies and consulates.
“The Covid-19 pandemic continues to severely affect the ability of embassies and consulates around the world to be able to resume routine visa services,” says the US Bureau of Consular Affairs in response to ongoing lockdown restrictions.
“Combined, these restrictions have reduced appointment capacity during the pandemic, which has created a significant backlog of both immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants awaiting a visa interview. The provision of services to U.S. citizens abroad is the first priority of consular sections abroad.”
Other exemptions are also afforded to certain non-immigrant “Exchange Visitors”.
Au pairs who are able to provide specialised care for minor US citizens with particular needs – medical, special education, or sign language – have also been added to the NIE list. This also applies to au pairs who take care of children whose parents are either frontline healthcare workers or medical researchers involved in work around Covid-19.
South Africans who are successfully enlisted in bilateral exchange programmes which are “designed to promote US national interests” will be allowed to enter the US. This programme must be endorsed by the US government at either federal, state, or local government level.
Similarly, interns and trainees on US government agency-sponsored programs are now also exempt from the travel ban.
Specialised teachers, who hold a degree-equivalent to a US bachelor’s degree in either education or the academic subject field in which they intend to teach, can also enter the US’ teacher programme which will exempt them from the ban.
Applying teachers will need to have at least two years’ experience and must “possess sufficient proficiency in the English language”.
South Africa isn’t the only country which is currently being subjected to US travel restrictions. The ban, and associated NIE exemptions, currently apply to travellers from China, Iran, Brazil, the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.