Jan 25 2021

President Biden Reinstates COVID-19 Bans for Europe and Brazil, and Adds South Africa

United States

At a glance

  • President Biden has issued a proclamation reinstating and renewing without interruption the regional COVID-19 travel bans in place for Brazil, European Schengen Countries, Ireland and the United Kingdom. These restrictions were set to expire on January 26 per an order by President Trump in his final days in office, but are now in place indefinitely. 
  • The proclamation also makes the Republic of South Africa subject to the COVID-19 travel restrictions, effective 12:01 am EST January 30.
  • Foreign nationals who have been physically present in one of the enumerated countries within 14 days of travel to the United States will be barred from entry, unless they qualify for an exception. 
  • In addition to the restrictions outlined in the proclamation, starting tomorrow, all international travelers over the age of two will be required to take a COVID-19 test prior to flying to the United States. 

The issue

Today, President Joseph Biden issued a presidential proclamation reinstating the COVID-19 travel bans which prohibit the entry of foreign nationals who have been physically present in Brazil, the European Schengen countries, Ireland and the United Kingdom prior to their travel to the United States. These restrictions were scheduled to be lifted on January 26, according to a proclamation issued by President Trump on January 18.  Instead, they will continue without interruption.

Additionally, the proclamation adds the Republic of South Africa to the list of countries to the regional COVID-19 travel bans, starting at 12:01 am EST on January 30, 2021.

The bans will be reviewed every 30 days and will remain in place until terminated by the President.

Travel ban details and implementation

The COVID-19 regional public health bans restrict travel for foreign nationals who have been physically present in an identified country within 14 days of seeking entry to the United States and who do not qualify for a ban exception.

Countries currently affected by these orders include: Brazil, China, Iran, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Schengen area countries, which include 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. 

South Africa will be added to this list on January 30, 2021. Travelers who have been present in South Africa will be permitted to enter the United States if they are on flights that depart before 12:01 am EST on January 30.  Otherwise, they must fall under an exception or spend 14 days in a non-subject country prior to flying to the United States. 

These aforementioned travel restrictions are in addition to the recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order that requires a negative COVID test or evidence of recent COVID recovery for any international travel to the United States starting on January 26. The new CDC requirements affect all travelers ages two years and older – including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents – who are seeking to enter the United States from any foreign country. 

Exceptions to the travel restrictions

The following travelers are not subject to the ban, but may be required to undergo screening and other measures upon arrival:

  • U.S. citizens and nationals;
  • U.S. lawful permanent residents;
  • 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 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.


A previous exception for foreign nationals who, in the CDC’s determination, would not pose a risk of transmitting the virus has been eliminated.

What this means

In light of the addition of South Africa to the ban list, your organization should work quickly to identify foreign employees who may be affected by the ban. Contact your designated Fragomen professionals to discuss available options, which could include urgent travel back to the United States, if possible, or alternative plans.

Organizations and foreign nationals should also be aware that the Biden Administration has ordered the CDC to provide recommendations on the feasibility of implementing a self-quarantine requirement for all international travelers, regardless of origin, which could affect travel to the United States in the future.

Fragomen is closely monitoring implementation of the COVID-19 travel bans and related travel restrictions and will issue follow-up alerts as developments occur. For the latest information related to the coronavirus’ impact on immigration-related matters worldwide, please visit Fragomen’s COVID-19 website

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