Virginia, US

Mar 12 2020

Coronavirus Update: What Employers and Foreign Nationals Need to Know about the Europe Travel Restrictions

United States

At a glance

  • With limited exceptions, foreign nationals will be barred from entering the United States if they have been physically present in one of the 26 countries of the Schengen Area (which comprises much of Europe) within 14 days before their attempted entry to the United States.
  • U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, their spouses and children under 21, and certain other family members are not subject to the travel restrictions, among other classes of exempt foreign nationals. However, exempt traveler groups may be subject to health screenings and other measures.
  • The travel restrictions will take effect at 11:59 pm EDT on Friday, March 13, and remain in effect until terminated by President Trump.

The issue

Late Wednesday, March 11, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation that prohibits foreign nationals from entering the United States if they have been physically present in the Schengen Area, which comprises much of Europe, within 14 days before their attempted entry, with specific exceptions.

The proclamation takes effect at 11:59 pm EDT on Friday, March 13, and will remain in effect until terminated by the President. 

The following are answers to frequently asked questions about the new Coronavirus travel restrictions. This guidance is subject to change as U.S. government agencies issue information about implementation of the presidential proclamation and as the fluid situation evolves.

Who is subject to the European travel restrictions?

Foreign nationals will be prohibited from entering the United States if they have been physically present in the Schengen Area within 14 days before their attempted entry, with exceptions.

The following countries make up the Schengen Area: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. At this time, the travel restrictions are not triggered by physical presence in European countries that are not part of the Schengen Area. The ban also does not affect those who have traveled in the United Kingdom. However, changes to the scope of the ban cannot be ruled out.

Who is exempt from the travel restrictions?

The following groups of travelers are not subject to the Schengen travel restrictions:

  • U.S. citizens;
  • U.S. lawful permanent residents (“green card” holders);
  • Spouses of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents;
  • A foreign national who is the parent or legal guardian of an unmarried U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident under the age of 21;
  • A foreign national who is the sibling of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, provided they are both under 21;
  • A foreign national who is the child, foster child or ward of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, or who is a prospective adoptee seeking to enter the United States on an IR-4 or IH-4 visa;
  • A foreign national traveling at the invitation of the U.S. government for a purpose related to containment or mitigation of the COVID-19 virus;
  • A foreign air or sea crewmember;
  • Certain A, C, E-1 (TECRO or TECO employees), G, and NATO nonimmigrants;
  • A foreign national whose entry would not pose a risk of transmitting the virus as determined by the CDC;
  • A foreign national whose entry would further important U.S. law enforcement objectives;
  • A foreign national whose entry would be in the national interest; and
  • Members of the U.S. armed forces and their spouses and children.

How long will the ban be in effect?

The ban will be in effect until it is lifted by President Trump. Though the President indicated that the ban would be in place for 30 days, the situation is very fluid. It could be extended to other countries and broadened in other ways.

Will the U.S. government provide waivers from the ban?

At this time, there is no indication that the U.S. government will allow affected travelers to apply for waivers from the ban.

I hold an U.S. nonimmigrant visa and am in the Schengen Area now. I plan to fly to the United States soon. Will I be able to enter?

If you are on a flight that departs before 11:59pm EDT on March 13, 2020 (3:59am GMT), you should be able to enter the United States. You may be subject to health screening or quarantine requirements when you arrive.

I am subject to the travel restrictions and urgently need to return to the United States. What should I do now?

Contact your U.S. employer and your designated Fragomen team. If you are unable to secure travel arrangements back to the United States before the ban takes effect, your employer and Fragomen team will work with you to identify options.

I am awaiting a U.S. visa to travel to the United States. If I am issued a visa, will the travel restrictions apply to me?

If you have been in the Schengen Area within 14 days of your anticipated entry to the United States, you will be subject to the restrictions as long as they are in effect, unless you fall into one of the enumerated exemptions. A U.S. visa on its own will not qualify you for an exemption.

I will have a brief layover in a Schengen Area airport after the ban takes effect. Will I be able to enter the United States?

Once the ban takes effect, it will apply to anyone who is physically present in the Schengen Area, unless a traveler meets one of the exemptions from the ban. It is our understanding that physical presence includes transit through the Schengen Area, even brief airport layovers.

I am subject to the European travel ban and will be in the Schengen Area after the ban takes effect. Can I “wait it out” in a non-Schengen country for 14 days, then return to the United States?

Waiting out the ban in a non-Schengen Area country is possible, as long as you meet that country’s immigration and entry requirements. However, the COVID-19 situation is extremely fluid. U.S. travel restrictions could be expanded to additional countries and broadened in other ways in the coming weeks. As such, there is no guarantee that your revised U.S. travel plans will be viable on the date of planned travel.

I am exempt from the travel restrictions and will be returning to the United States from the Schengen Area after the ban takes effect. Will I be subject to any health screenings or quarantine requirements?

Though the U.S. government has not provided details, you should anticipate the possibility of arrival requirements, including health screening requirements and quarantines, if you have traveled in the Schengen Area within 14 days before entering the United States. Fragomen is closely following recommendations and requirements issued by government agencies and will provide updates as the situation develops.

I am an F-1 student on optional practical training (OPT). I traveled outside the United States and am now subject to the European travel restrictions. I will not be able to return to the United States before the travel ban takes effect. How will this affect my F-1 status?

As an F-1 student on OPT, you are subject to limits on the amount of time you are unemployed.  “Unemployment” includes travel overseas, unless it is authorized by your employer for a business trip or personal leave. 

If you are employed on OPT and your employer has sent you on a business trip or authorized personal leave, this time should not count against your 90-day unemployment limit (150 days if you are on STEM OPT).

However, if you are between OPT jobs, travel abroad will count against these limits. At this time, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program has not announced any relaxation of these requirements in light of COVID-19. Therefore, prolonged absence from the United States during your OPT period could affect your F-1 status and your record in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) if your absence is not authorized by your OPT employer or you are not currently employed.

I am a foreign national in the Schengen Area and subject to the travel restrictions. How can I extend my stay abroad until I can return to the United States or make other arrangements?

Contact your employer and your designated Fragomen team to discuss your needs and immigration options, which may include extending a Schengen visa (if required).

Fragomen is closely monitoring implementation of the travel restrictions and will provide updates as new information becomes available. For the latest information related to the coronavirus’ impact on immigration-related matters worldwide, please visit Fragomen’s Coronavirus Update Page

This alert is for informational purposes only. If you have any questions, please contact the immigration professional with whom you work at Fragomen.