F-1 Travel Restrictions and National Interest Exceptions

Recent Travel Restrictions for F-1 Students entering from Certain Countries and National Interest Exceptions

 

OIPS is providing the information below to help you understand how current travel restrictions affect your eligibility to enter the U.S. We cannot make any guarantees about your ability to enter the U.S.  However, we have made every attempt to provide you with accurate information below.  It is very important for you to understand that this information is subject to interpretation and rapid changes.

The information on this page is specifically for F-1 students. J-1 students should continue to consult with Christine Bodziak at cbodziak@gmu.edu for questions about travel to the U.S.

 

Travel Prohibitions and Exceptions

The United States government recently updated the list of countries that an F-1 student cannot travel directly from in order to enter the U.S. Students can find the updated list at Travelers Prohibited from Entry to the United States. The United States government also announced that F-1 Students traveling from the countries on the prohibited list are eligible to apply for a waiver called a National Interest Exception (NIE).  F-1 Students who have an NIE are allowed to travel from a country listed at Travelers Prohibited from Entry to the United States. If you are an F-1 student traveling from a country that is NOT on the prohibited list, you are not required to get an NIE.

 

Eligibility for an NIE

F-1 students should refer to the U.S. Department of State’s April 30, 2021 announcement and pay particular attention to the following paragraph in the announcement:

Students and certain academics covered by exchange visitor programs. Students subject to these geographic COVID proclamations due to their presence in India, China, Iran, Brazil, or South Africa, may qualify for a National Interest Exception only if their academic program begins August 1, 2021 or later. Students with valid F-1 and M-1 visas intending to begin or continue an academic program commencing August 1, 2021 or later do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual National Interest Exception to travel. They may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the start of their academic studies. Students seeking to apply for new F-1 or M-1 visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest embassy or consulate; those applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for a national interest exception to travel.

How Students can get an NIE

New, Returning, and OPT Students who need to apply for an F-1 Visa:

  • Check the operating status of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to apply for a visa.
  • Make sure that you have documentation showing that your program or employment will not begin before August 1, 2021. Below are suggested documents depending on whether you are new, returning, or pursuing OPT.
  • New Students: Your Fall 2021 I-20 from George Mason, which will indicate that the program start date is August 17, 2021.
  • Returning Students: The Fall 2021 Academic Calendar from the Registrar’s Office and copy of your Fall 2021 registration.
  • Pursuing OPT: Provide documentation showing that you will not enter the U.S. to begin work before August 1, 2021. It might be helpful for you to provide a letter from your employer that indicates your plan to continue work in the U.S. on or after August 1, 2021.
  • At your visa interview, make sure you understand what documentation proves that you have an NIE. The S. Department of State’s April 30, 2021 announcement states that if you are approved for an F-1 Visa, you should have automatic approval for an NIE. Therefore, the F-1 Visa in your passport could be the only document that you need.

 

New, Returning, and OPT Students who do NOT need to apply for an F-1 Visa:

  • Check the website of your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to see if there are specific instructions to get an NIE. The S. Department of State’s April 30, 2021 announcement states that if you already have a valid F1 visa, you do not need to contact the U.S. embassy or consulate to get an NIE if your academic program starts after August 1, 2021. Therefore, it is likely that you do not need to request any documentation. However, we recommend that you check requirements with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

 

  • If the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate requires you to request an NIE, make sure that you have documentation showing that your classes or work not begin before August 1, 2021. Below are suggested documents depending on whether you are new, returning, or pursuing OPT. If you do not need these documents for an NIE, you might still need to show them at the U.S. Port of Entry.
    • New Students: Your Fall 2021 I-20 from George Mason, which will indicate that the program start date is August 17, 2021.
    • Returning Students: The Fall 2021 Academic Calendar from the Registrar’s Office and copy of your Fall 2021 registration.
    • Pursuing OPT: Provide documentation showing that you will not enter the U.S. to begin work before August 1, 2021. It might be helpful for you to provide a letter from your employer that indicates your plan to continue work in the U.S. on or after August 1, 2021.

 

When F-1 Students can Enter the U.S.

  • The least risky plan at this time is for new, returning, and OPT students to enter the U.S. on or after August 1, 2021. Students who attempt to travel before August 1st might be prohibited from boarding their flight or denied entry by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol once their flight lands.
  • Before you board your flight, check with your airline to make sure you know any specific requirements.
  • A negative COVID Test is required for all travelers to the U.S. regardless of where they are traveling from. See information at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for details.

 

Alternative Plan – Entering another country for 14 days before Travel to the U.S.

If you want to enter the U.S. before August 1st, you can try to travel to another country, stay in that country for 14 days, and then travel to the U.S. Students who need to get an F-1 visa should be aware that there could be more difficulties in obtaining an F-1 visa from a country other than their home country.