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Frequently Asked COVID-19 Questions for VISAS
35 MINUTE READ
October 26, 2021

Update on Safely Resuming Travel by Vaccine Requirement and Rescission of Travel Restrictions

On October 25, President Biden announced a Presidential Proclamation titled “A Proclamation on Advancing the Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”  This proclamation, which takes effect at 12:01 am Eastern Standard Time on November 8, 2021, will end the travel restrictions under Presidential Proclamations (P.P.) 9984, 9992, 10143, and 10199 as they relate to the suspension of entry into the United States of persons physically present in Brazil, China, India, Iran, Ireland, the Schengen Area, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.  In place of these restrictions, the President announced a global vaccination requirement for all adult foreign national travelers.  More information can be found here as well as these FAQs on COVID-19 Vaccinations and Testing for International Travel.

Until November 8, 2021, Presidential Proclamation 10143 suspends entry into the United States of all noncitizens who were physically present in any country that is part of the Schengen Area during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States.

 

General Information

Q: What U.S. visas are being processed in Germany at this time?

A: The United States Embassy and Consulates in Germany are currently offering immigrant and nonimmigrant visa services including:

  • All immigrant and K (fiancé(e)) visa categories;
  • Nonimmigrant visas as follows:
    • Travelers with urgent travel needs;
    • F, M, and certain J visas; and
    • Work visas (including C1/D, E, H, L, O, and P visa categories).

Q: Where can I make an appointment?

A: Applicants requesting visa services from the U.S. Mission in Germany are welcome to apply at any of the three visa-processing locations – Frankfurt, Berlin, and Munich. Please note that there may be increased wait times for processing applications due to substantial backlogs in some categories.

Q: How long is my nonimmigrant visa fee (MRV) valid?

A: The Machine-Readable Visa (MRV) fee is normally valid within one year of the date of payment and may be used to schedule a visa appointment in the country where it was purchased.  However, the Department understands, as a result of the pandemic, many visa applicants have paid the visa application processing fee and are still waiting to schedule a visa appointment.  We are working diligently to restore all routine visa operations as quickly and safely as possible.  In the meantime, the Department extended the validity of MRV fees until September 30, 2023, to allow all applicants who were unable to schedule a visa appointment due to the suspension of routine consular operations an opportunity to schedule and/or attend a visa appointment with the fee they already paid.

If you have an urgent matter and need to travel immediately, please follow the instructions at our Visa Services Provider to request an emergency appointment.

Presidential Proclamations Restricting Visa Issuance and Travel to the U.S.

Q: Where can I find information about the Presidential Proclamations restricting visa issuance and travel from Germany and the Schengen Area? 

A: Please see the following link for the most recent information on the Presidential Proclamations issued by the White House: Presidential Proclamations.

Q: What is Presidential Proclamation 10143 (Schengen Area regional proclamation)?

A: Presidential Proclamation (P.P.) 10143 suspends the entry of non-permanent resident foreign nationals who were present in, among other countries, the 26 countries that comprise the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and within 14 days prior to their arrival at the port of entry in the United States. (This proclamation was previously called P.P. 9993, and is also sometimes referred to as the Schengen Area regional proclamation.) If you were physically present, including transit, in any of these countries in the 14 days prior to your arrival to the United States, you need a national interest exception (NIE) even if you have been fully vaccinated.

Please see the following link for more information about whether your case qualifies for an NIE or is exempt from PP 10143. NIEs under PP 10143.

Q: Who is exempt from under P.P. 10143?

A: The following persons are exempt from P.P. 10143 and do not need an NIE (please note you still must have a valid visa or ESTA):

  • Spouses of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs)
  • Minor children (unmarried and under the age of 21) of U.S. citizens and LPRs
  • Minor siblings (unmarried and under the age of 21) of U.S. citizens and LPRs
  • Parents of minor (unmarried and under the age of 21) U.S. citizens and LPRs

Other family member relationships do not qualify for blanket exceptions at this time. Travelers in the categories above should contact the air carrier for questions about boarding requirements (including required documentation to prove your relationship).

Q: Are there other exceptions to the NIE requirement?

A: All immigrant visa holders and F, C1/D, K, and M nonimmigrant visa holders, including the spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, and the minor siblings of U.S. citizens or permanent residents do not need NIEs to enter the United States.

Nonimmigrant (Temporary) Visa Travel and NIEs

Q: Can I travel to the United States on my existing visa or ESTA?

A: Nearly all ESTA and visa holders require a national interest exception (NIE) to travel to the United States, in addition to their valid visa or ESTA. Holders of all other visa types and ESTA may qualify for an NIE if their purpose of travel meets the criteria established by the Department of State. More details on these criteria can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ NIE page and in further questions below.

Please contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to apply for an NIE before beginning your travel to the United States. See below for details.

Q: What is a national interest exception (NIE)? What types of travel can qualify? 

A: P.P. 10143 allows the entry of noncitizens into the United States if their entry would be in U.S. national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their designees. The Secretary of State has determined that certain travelers may be excepted from the travel restrictions of P.P. 10143; these exceptions are referred to as national interest exceptions (NIEs).

Travelers subject to the restrictions may currently qualify for NIEs if they are otherwise qualified to travel for the following purposes:

  • Vital support for critical infrastructure
  • Academics (some J-1 visas)
  • Students (F-1, M-1, or J-1 visa)
  • Journalists (I visa)
  • Humanitarian travel
  • Public health response (including COVID-19 mitigation)
  • U.S. national security

In addition to the exceptions above, NIEs related to executive direction or substantial investment may now be approved if travel falls into one of the following categories:

a) Executive direction in connection with vital support of Critical Infrastructure Sectors as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, or supply chain directly linked to Critical Infrastructure Sectors.  Designated sectors are listed below.

b) Travel to provide vital support or executive direction for significant economic activity in the United States.  This applies to:

  • Travel to support a major entertainment production conducted in the United States that would not go on without the traveler.
  • Travel by highly specialized professionals or experts to install, service, maintain, or receive necessary training for vessels, machinery and other critical equipment required by U.S. and foreign firms with a substantial investment in the United States.
  • Travel by executives and senior-level employees providing strategy and direction to U.S. and foreign firms with a substantial investment in the United States.

c) The Secretary’s determination also covers travel by dependents when the principal’s travel falls within the categories above and that travel would be reasonably expected to include dependents and is planned to last four weeks or more.

Q: How do I apply for an NIE?

A: If you have a valid visa or ESTA authorization that was issued prior to the effective date of P.P. 10143 and you believe you qualify for a national interest exception, please visit the NIE navigator of your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate at least two weeks prior to your planned travel.

Q: I am fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Do I still need an NIE? 

A: Yes.  At this time, vaccination status does not qualify you for an NIE, nor influence whether your NIE request will be approved. You must qualify for one of the NIE categories listed above based on the purpose of travel to the United States.

Q: I have important business or required work in the United States. How can I qualify for an NIE? What does it mean to provide vital support for critical infrastructure?

A: On March 2, 2021, the Secretary of State issued revised criteria for national interest exceptions which significantly changed the eligibility requirements for business and work travelers. The previous guidance allowed certain technical experts and specialists, senior-level managers and executives, treaty-traders and investors, professional athletes, and their dependents to travel to the United States. The new guidance allows for exceptions for travelers going to provide vital support to critical infrastructure.

The Department of Homeland Security has defined critical infrastructure sectors as chemical, commercial facilities, communications, critical manufacturing, dams, defense industrial bases, emergency services, energy, financial services, food and agriculture, government facilities, healthcare and public health, information technology, nuclear reactors, transportation, and water/wastewater systems. The Department of State evaluates if an applicant’s travel is in vital support of one of these sectors and thus qualifies for an NIE.

Q: My visa has a line stating there is a national interest exception. Is that a permanent NIE? Is that sufficient for travel to the United States? 

A: No. This indicates that you qualified at the time of interview for a national interest exception. Effective immediately, all individual NIEs are valid for 12 months and for multiple entries.  This change is retroactive for NIEs issued within the past 12 months, and will automatically apply to all new NIEs issued on or after July 6, 2021. Subsequent entries into the United States are limited to the purposes described in the originally approved NIE until relevant PPs are altered or rescinded.

Q: I was previously issued a national interest exception (NIE), but my new request was denied. What has changed? 

A: The Secretary of State’s revised guidance of March 2, 2021, removed several categories of exceptions, including those for senior executives and managers, specialist technical employees, and investors. This may mean that your purpose of travel was eligible under previous guidance but is not eligible under the new guidance. Under the new criteria, only business travel that is in vital support of critical infrastructure will be granted an exception.

Q: I had a planned vacation in the United States. Can I travel on ESTA or get a B1/B2 tourist visa?

A: No, unless you are the family member of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident as outlined in the question above. Tourist travel is not permitted at this time.

Q: Can I travel to the United States through a country that is not covered by P.P. 10143?

A: Direct travel to the United States from a country that is not covered by the various COVID-19 regional proclamations may be possible, however, CBP controls U.S. ports of entry and will determine whether or not to admit you into the United States. Individuals that are subject to P.P. 10143 may travel to a country not subject to restrictions and remain there for at least 14 days and then travel directly to the United States, but we advise you to verify whether the country to which you intend to travel has implemented travel or other restrictions before you make travel arrangements. One possible source of such information is Travel.State.Gov which contains links to the websites of other countries’ immigration authorities.

U.S. consular sections in Germany are not able to suggest countries to which you may travel, or comment on the travel regulations that apply to a country other than the United States and Germany.

Q: I plan on traveling and spending 14 days outside the geographic restrictions of P.P. 10143. I can provide plane tickets, hotel reservations etc. Can you issue the visa without the national interest exception? 

A: No.  We can only process visa applications for persons who have an upcoming purpose of travel that qualifies for a national interest exception. If your upcoming trip does not qualify for an NIE at this time, your application will be denied regardless of future travel plans.

Q: I have an immediate family member (ex. U.S. citizen or LPR parent, child, or sibling over 21) in the United States who has a medical emergency and I need to travel urgently. Can I travel on ESTA or a B1/B2 tourist visa?

A: Please email the U.S. consular section in your area with an explanation of your urgent need to travel and medical documentation. You may be eligible for a humanitarian exception to the restrictions in P.P. 10143. Humanitarian exceptions may be granted for critical medical treatment or to provide critical medical care for a family member in the United States.

Effective immediately, all individual NIEs are valid for 12 months and for multiple entries.  This change is retroactive for NIEs issued within the past 12 months, and will automatically apply to all new NIEs issued on or after July 6, 2021. Subsequent entries into the United States are limited to the purposes described in the originally approved NIE until relevant PPs are altered or rescinded.

Q: My visa is about to expire, but the nearest U.S. embassy/consulate does not have any appointments. How can I renew my visa? 

A: Residents of Germany whose visas are about to expire or have expired in the past 48 months may be eligible to renew their visa by mail without an interview if they meet certain other qualifications. Please visit our Interview Waiver Visa Renewal page for more information.

Please note that we can only process visa applications for persons who have an upcoming purpose of travel that qualifies for a national interest exception (NIE). Please carefully review the NIE guidance on this page. If your upcoming trip does not qualify for an NIE at this time, your application will be denied.

Q: I am relocating to the United States for work or school and qualify for a national interest exception. My partner would like to join me but does not have a derivative visa. Can s/he receive an NIE?

A: No. National interest exceptions will not be granted for ESTA or B1/B2 travel unless the holder of that travel document also qualifies for a NIE.

Q: I am a student (F or M) or exchange visitor student (J) or medical researcher/short-term scholar (J). Can I apply for a visa or use my previously approved visa?

A: Yes. As a J exchange student or academic researcher/short-term scholar you may be eligible for an exception to P.P. 10143. Please make a visa appointment online if you are a first-time applicant for one of these categories. If you already have a visa but are currently located in the Schengen Area, please email the U.S. consular section in your area to be considered for an exception.

Students who already hold valid F and M visas do not need to apply for a new visa and may now travel directly from the Schengen Area to the United States. Prospective students who need an F or M visa should make an appointment for a visa interview. All F and M travelers must have a current I-20 form that complies with all student and exchange visitor program requirements; if admitted into the United States, such students may have to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Effective immediately, all individual NIEs are valid for 12 months and for multiple entries.  This change is retroactive for NIEs issued within the past 12 months, and will automatically apply to all new NIEs issued on or after July 6, 2021. Subsequent entries into the United States are limited to the purposes described in the originally approved NIE until relevant PPs are altered or rescinded.

Q: I am being sponsored as an au pair, camp counselor, intern, or trainee (J). Can I apply for a visa or use my previously approved visa?

A: If you are physically present in the Schengen Area, you are subject to the travel restrictions pursuant to P.P. 10143. Only limited exceptions apply; in general, au pairs, camp counselors, interns, and trainees will not qualify for an exception to the January 25 proclamation.

However, if you are an au pair (J) for a child with special needs or providing care for a child whose parents are working to mitigate COVID-19, you may be eligible for an exception. Please email the U.S. consular section in your area.

Effective immediately, all individual NIEs are valid for 12 months and for multiple entries.  This change is retroactive for NIEs issued within the past 12 months, and will automatically apply to all new NIEs issued on or after July 6, 2021. Subsequent entries into the United States are limited to the purposes described in the originally approved NIE until relevant PPs are altered or rescinded.

Q: I am a member of a flight or ship crew and need to renew my visa (C1/D). Can I submit paperwork for a renewal?

A: Yes. We have limited appointments for crew member visa renewals. You may make an appointment through our Visa Services Provider. If you are eligible for renewal without an interview, please follow the instructions for the Renew my Visa  and be sure to include a photocopy of your flight ID badge or a letter from your employer. Crew members do not need an NIE; if you hold a valid C1/D visa you may travel on it.

Q: My company is transferring me to work for our office in the United States (L). Can I apply for a visa or use my previously approved visa?

A: We are not currently processing routine L visa applications except in limited cases. Intracompany transferees are subject to P.P. 10143, and your travel must meet the national interest exception (NIE) criteria. Read the previous question on what types of travel may qualify for an NIE.

NIEs are available for L2 spouses or children who will accompany or follow to join a principal applicant who has received an exception to P.P. 10143.

Effective immediately, all individual NIEs are valid for 12 months and for multiple entries.  This change is retroactive for NIEs issued within the past 12 months, and will automatically apply to all new NIEs issued on or after July 6, 2021. Subsequent entries into the United States are limited to the purposes described in the originally approved NIE until relevant PPs are altered or rescinded.

Q: I am a highly skilled worker (H1B). Can I apply for a visa or use my previously approved visa?

A: We are not currently processing routine H1B applications except in limited cases. If you are physically present in the Schengen Area, you are subject to P.P. 10143, and your travel must meet the national interest exception (NIE) criteria. Read the previous question on what types of travel may qualify for an NIE.

NIEs are available for H4 spouses or children who will accompany or follow to join a principal applicant who has received an exception to P.P. 10052 and P.P. 10143.

Effective immediately, all individual NIEs are valid for 12 months and for multiple entries.  This change is retroactive for NIEs issued within the past 12 months, and will automatically apply to all new NIEs issued on or after July 6, 2021. Subsequent entries into the United States are limited to the purposes described in the originally approved NIE until relevant PPs are altered or rescinded.

Q: I am an investor or treaty trader (E1 or E2) or a technician or specialist employee of an E company and need to travel to the United States for work. Can I apply for a visa or use my previously approved visa? 

A: We are not currently processing routine E visa applications except in limited cases. Furthermore, if you are physically present in the Schengen Area, you are subject to P.P. 10143, and your travel must meet national interest exception (NIE) criteria.  Investors, treaty traders, and their employees are subject to the new NIE guidance issued on March 2, 2021, and no longer have a blanket exception. Your purpose of travel must now be in vital support of critical infrastructure or another excepted category. Read the previous question on what types of travel may qualify for an NIE.

Effective immediately, all individual NIEs are valid for 12 months and for multiple entries.  This change is retroactive for NIEs issued within the past 12 months, and will automatically apply to all new NIEs issued on or after July 6, 2021. Subsequent entries into the United States are limited to the purposes described in the originally approved NIE until relevant PPs are altered or rescinded.

Q: Presidential Proclamation (P.P) 10052 expired on March 31, 2021. How did that affect visa issuance and travel?

A: P.P. 10052 temporarily suspended the entry of certain H-1B, H-2B, J (for certain categories within the exchange visitor program), and L nonimmigrants.

Q: My visa was refused under Presidential Proclamation 10052, which expired on March 31, 2021. Can you issue my visa now?  

A: If your visa application was refused under P.P. 10052, you will need to reapply and pay a new application fee.  If you choose to reapply, you must meet one of the national interest exception (NIE) categories under P.P. 10143, as described above.

Q: My H-1B, H-2B, J, or L visa was refused under P.P. 10143. Can I reapply now?

A: If your visa application was refused under P.P. 10143, the expiration of P.P. 10052 does not affect this refusal. You may contact the U.S. embassy or consulate where you interviewed once P.P. 10143 has been rescinded to continue your application.

Q: How do I know why my visa was refused? 

A: Your refusal letter should say why the visa was refused.  If you do not have your refusal letter or it is not clear, you can contact the U.S. embassy or consulate where you completed your interview for further information.

Q: I qualified for a NIE as an L, H-1B, H-2B under one of the exceptions in P.P. 10052. Will I need to show anything additional now?

A: If an NIE was granted for an L1 or H1B visa prior to March 31, 2021, the NIE has been extended to be valid for one month from the time of issuance if the NIE was issued in the previous 12 months. Future requests for NIEs must address one of the exceptions found solely in P.P. 10143.  Those NIEs will also be valid for 12 months with multiple entries.

Q: I am applying for a J1 visa as an au pair or an exchange visitor program for interns, summer work and travel, camp counselors, trainees, or teachers. How does the end of P.P. 10052 impact my application?

A: In order to process your application, you must meet a national interest exception (NIE) found in P.P. 10143. The now-expired P.P. 10052 developed several additional exceptions for J1 visa holders. P.P. 10143 has been expanded to include many of these exceptions. If you meet one of the NIEs in P.P.10052, you will qualify as well under P.P 10143.

Immigrant and K (Fiancé(e) Visas

Q: Has the COVID-19 vaccination been added to the list of required vaccinations as part of the medical examination? 

A: Yes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated the Technical Instructions (TIs) for panel physicians to include a section on COVID-19.  The new TIs add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required vaccinations. The new requirements go into effect on October 1, 2021.  The update requires all IV and K visa applicants be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 prior to going to their medical examination.

Q: My immigrant visa application was put on hold when COVID began. Can I continue with my application now?

A: U.S. Consulate General Frankfurt is resuming limited immigrant (IV) (including Diversity Lottery 2021 and K fiancée/fiancé) visa processing in May 2021, subject to COVID-19 restrictions.  Please see the following link for more information about our prioritization guidelines for the resumption of IV and K visa processing: Immigrant and K Visa Prioritization Guidelines.

Q: I already had an interview on my immigrant or K visa application before the pandemic began. How do I continue processing my application?

A: If you have already had an interview for your IV or K application, or had an interview appointment scheduled but then canceled, we will contact you about documents that need to be updated and any other steps required, possibly to include scheduling an appointment, to complete your application.

Q: How soon will you process my IV or K case?

A; We are processing cases on a first-in, first-out basis according to the prioritization guidance on the phased resumption of visa services (Immigrant and K Visa Prioritization Guidelines).  Please understand that we will not be able to resume visa processing at pre-pandemic levels because of limited capacity and the number of people we can safely maintain socially distant in the consulate.

Q: My case is still located at the National Visa Center (NVC) or the Kentucky Consular Center (KCC). Should I contact the NVC or KCC to continue my case? 

A: No. If your case is still located at the NVC or the KCC, the NVC has already begun scheduling according to capacity.  Documentarily qualified and complete cases at NVC and KCC will likewise be processed on a first-in, first-out basis.

Q: I have an emergency need to process my immigrant or K visa application. Can I expedite my application?

A: If you believe your case qualifies for emergency or expedited treatment, please contact the NVC at NVCexpedite@state.gov to explain the circumstances supporting your request.

Q: I already have a valid immigrant or K visa in my passport. Can I travel directly to the United States.?

A: Yes. All valid immigrant and K visa holders are now permitted to travel directly to the United States.

Travel to the U.S.

Q: Do I need a COVID-19 test to travel to the United States?

A: Effective January 26, all airline passengers ages two years and older to the United States must provide a negative COVID-19 viral test taken within three calendar days of travel. Alternatively, travelers to the United States may provide documentation from a licensed health care provider of having recovered from COVID-19 in the 90 days preceding travel. Waivers to the testing requirement may be granted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on an extremely limited basis when extraordinary emergency travel (for instance, an emergency medical evacuation) must occur to preserve someone’s health and safety, and testing cannot be completed before travel.  There are no waivers available for individuals who test positive for COVID-19.  Individuals – or air carriers seeking to allow boarding by potentially qualifying individuals – who believe they meet the criteria for a waiver should contact the U.S. embassy or consulate at GermanyACS@state.gov. Check the CDC website for additional information and Frequently Asked Questions.

Q: Will I be required to self-quarantine after I enter the United States?

A: The Department of State recommends the CDC website for the most up-to-date information regarding quarantine requirements.

Q: I am in the United States and I am worried about overstaying my authorized period of admission.  What should I do?

A: If you are in the United States, please visit the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website for information on how to apply to extend your stay.  While you are in the United States, any questions about your status are a matter for USCIS and not the U.S. embassy or consulates in Germany.  Information and contact details can be found on the USCIS website.

Q: I am traveling from the Schengen Area to a third country and my itinerary includes a transfer at a U.S. airport. Will I be allowed to make this journey?

A: Very likely not.  Travelers whose itinerary includes a stop or transfer in the United States must be able to enter the United States to continue their journey and P.P. 10143 does not include a specific exemption for transit passengers.  Tourism to third countries does not qualify for a national interest exemption (NIE).  Ask your airline about rerouting your travel.