On November 26, 2021, in response to the discovery of the omicron variant of the virus which causes COVID-19, the Biden Administration issued a Presidential Proclamation banning the entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of noncitizens who were physically present within Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe during the past 14-day period. This ban comes only 19 days after the U.S. government ended its COVID-19 travel bans worldwide and replaced them with a vaccine mandate for travel to the United States. The Proclamation is effective at 12:01 a.m. eastern standard time on November 29, 2021 and does not apply to persons aboard a flight scheduled to arrive in the U.S. that departed prior to 12:01 a.m. eastern standard time on November 29, 2021.
As with previous COVID-19 travel bans, there are numerous exceptions including:
- U.S. citizens
- Lawful permanent residents
- Spouses of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents
- Parents of minor U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents
- Siblings of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, provided that both are unmarried and under the age of 21
- Children to be adopted in the U.S. pursuant to IR-4 or IH-4 visas
- Travelers coming at the invitation of the U.S. Government for a purpose related to containment or mitigation of the virus
- C-1, D, or C-1/D crewmembers or any noncitizen otherwise traveling to the United States as air or sea crew
- Diplomats and employees of international organizations
- Members of the U.S. Armed Forces and immediate family members
- Any noncitizen whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their designee
At this time, it is unknown whether the Department of State will implement a process similar to what was in place under the previous travel bans to consider requests for National interest Exceptions permitting travel to the United States. It is also not known whether the Department of State will use the same criteria to evaluate said National Interest Exception requests.
Importantly, the Proclamation confirms that those individuals exempt from the ban may nevertheless be subject to Proclamation 10294 of October 25, 2021, which mandated COVID-19 vaccines and predeparture testing for most travelers effective November 8, 2021.