What are the temporary restrictions and exemptions for ESTA travellers to the US?
November 2020 Updates: Beginning in January 2020, US President Donald J. Trump signed the first proclamation to limit travel from the People’s Republic of China into the United States to halt the spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. This Presidential Proclamation is entitled the Proclamation on the Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting Coronavirus. As Covid-19 infection numbers continued to rise and concern of its spread intensified, additional travel suspension proclamations were added to include the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Schengen Areas. On March 14, 2020 Proclamation 9996 was signed to restrict travel from the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Two additional proclamations were later signed in April and June that suspended immigrant and nonimmigrant travel to the United States that posed a risk to the recovery of the US labor market.
What are exceptions to the Presidential Proclamation?
At present, several exceptions to the Presidential Proclamations exist. Travellers from the UK and Ireland may be eligible to enter the US with either a valid visa or visa-waiver authorisation under certain circumstances. Exceptions to the Presidential Proclamation may include:
US citizens or US permanent residents
The spouse of a US citizen or US permanent resident
Legal guardians or parents of US citizens or US permanent residents that are not married and under 21 years of age
Siblings of US citizens or US permanent residents; each must be unmarried and under 21 years of age
Foster children, wards, or adoptees of US citizens or US permanent residents
Individuals whose presence in the US is in the national interest and requested by a US government official
Air or sea crew with a nonimmigrant visa
Foreign government officials, staff, and family holding specific government visas
Professional athletes, their staff, and dependents
Emergency travel to the United states may also be granted for individuals providing either humanitarian aid, a public health response, pandemic economic recovery, or improving transatlantic relationships.
Can I enter the United States with ESTA now?
At present, individuals from the UK and Ireland with a valid passport and travel authorization may not enter the United States unless they are exempt from the Presidential Proclamations. Individuals believed to be exempt from the travel suspension should contact their airline carrier for assistance and allot for sufficient time to confirm their exemption before planned travel dates to avoid delays. The US Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Regional Carrier Liaison Groups (RCLG) provide continual guidance and support to airline carriers regarding exceptions for the Presidential Proclamation’s travel suspensions.
Additionally, individuals with a valid travel document that require emergency travel to the United States and are not exempt from the Presidential Proclamations should contact the nearest US Embassy or Consulate for assistance, preferably by email. The email subject should be written as “National Interest Exception Request: SURNAME, FIRST NAME”. The body of the email should provide a detailed description of the urgent need or emergency.
Is it possible to apply for the visa waiver program now?
Yes, applications are currently being accepted for the visa waiver program. The application process may be completed entirely online. Results can generally be obtained in 24 hours or less. Please be advised that although visa waiver document requests are currently being authorized for travel, it is not yet possible to enter the United States—even with a valid ESTA unless the individual is exempt from the travel suspension proclamations or is granted emergency status.
What happens if I attempt to enter the US with ESTA during the travel suspension?
If an individual attempts to enter the United States from the UK or Ireland with an approved travel document, but they are not exempt from the travel suspension proclamations and they have not been granted emergency clearance, then the ESTA will automatically expire and entrance to the US will not be permitted. Fees for an expired travel authorisation are non-refundable. Fortunately, the expiration of the travel document does not equate to not authorized document status. The individual will still be able to apply for the visa waiver program in the future and receive approval status.
Is it possible to make an appointment at a US Consulate or Embassy in the UK or Ireland?
Beginning in July, the US Embassy in London, the US Embassy in Dublin, and the US Consulate General in Belfast resumed some services for immigrant and nonimmigrant visas. At present, the services are limited and include the following assistance:
Immigrant visas for spouses and children of U.S. citizens
F-1 student visas
M-1 student visas
Although some individuals have already paid the visa fee, it may not yet be possible to schedule the in-person appointment. Fortunately, the validity of the payment, known as the MRV fee, will remain valid through December 31, 2021. Although regular appointments are likely not yet available, it may be possible to make some emergency appointments.
When will the travel suspensions be lifted?
Currently it is unknown when the travel suspensions will end and regular travel with a visa or with the ESTA visa waiver to the United States will resume.
More about ESTA
For citizens of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland planning visa-free travel to the United States that would like more information, we invite you to read our comprehensive guide: All about ESTA. To find the answers to common questions about the visa waiver program please consult our ESTA Guide
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Travelling to the United States? Do you have your pre-planning checklist in order? Visit our ESTA Guide for more information about obtaining your travel permit. We'd love to hear from you. Send us your comments or questions for travel assistance.