Trapped in the U.S. or Trapped Abroad – Havoc Caused by Regional Bans Continues

Liam’s* mother is not well in Ireland. She is getting older, and her memory is now rapidly failing due to Alzheimer’s Disease. Liam is currently working in the United States under his H-1B status. He is newly married to another Irish national and is eager to return to Ireland to be with his family and friends and introduce his new wife to his mother.  Time is not on his side as news from Ireland about his mother’s health is not good.  Liam never thought that U.S. politics would directly affect his life. However, it is politics now that keeps him from returning to Ireland and reuniting with his family.

The dilemma Liam faces exists for many other current and prospective visa holders. He works for a U.S. employer and has been vetted and approved for his H-1B status. If he left the U.S. now, he could not return without an appointment to get a new visa at the U.S. Consulate abroad. Due to travel restrictions on the Schengen Area, the U.K., Ireland, Brazil, China and Iran, first imposed during the Trump Administration and continued during the Biden Administration under Presidential Proclamation 10143 (PP 10143), not only does Liam need a new visa, he also needs to show that his work is in the national interest, even though he is already eligible for status.  He must get a National Interest Exemption (NIE) – the awarding of which is difficult, complicated and inconsistent. Similar restrictions are in place for individuals who were in India and South Africa.  Without an NIE, he, like so many others, is unable to travel to the United States, even if employed by a U.S. company or organization.

What does this mean?  First, due to pandemic-related closures and insufficient staffing, the Department of State does not provide sufficient appointments to allow applicants like Liam to apply for a visa for the status the US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) has already approved. Second, the irrational regional COVID-19 bans require every individual who was physically present in one of the banned countries to apply for an NIE waiver before they can enter the United States, even if they have a valid visa already. Without an NIE, individuals who already had status in the U.S., like Liam, cannot travel to the United States. On the financial side, this results in interruptions to U.S. businesses and the U.S. economy and the loss of the secondary economic benefits of payroll taxes, sales taxes, and spending by these employees trapped abroad. In addition, those currently in the U.S. and not exempt from these bans, risk not being able to reenter the country if they leave and are thus unable to visit family or tend to compelling circumstances such as the kind that Liam is facing.

Liam is just one example of the impact of the continued assault on legal immigration and U.S. employers commenced during the Trump administration and continued under the Biden Administration. The Biden Administration must rescind these misguided and destructive regional travel bans and order that the Department of State begin to issue visas again, at the very least to those who USCIS has already approved for lawful nonimmigrant status in the United States. Moreover, if additional visa processing cannot be accomplished at U.S. Consulates abroad for safety reasons due to the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic, the Administration should allow visa renewals to be made here in the United States as they were done for many years. For more recommendations on how the Department of State can more efficiently process visas, read Policy Brief: Reopening America – How DOS Can Reduce Delays and Eliminate Backlogs and Inefficiencies to Create a Welcoming America. 

Right now, President Biden is more focused on being seen as “tough” on COVID-19, even though that results in scapegoating “immigrants” like his predecessor. Rather than implementing rational and necessary prevention methods based in science to protect our health and economy, the Biden Administration maintains senseless travel bans. The resulting impact harms families like Liam’s that are torn apart by arbitrary restrictions.


You can make your voice heard and urge President Biden to rescind the regional travel bans and tell the Department of State leadership that additional changes should be made as well:

*Name changed.

by Matthew Maiona