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US Opens Flights to Fully Vaccinated Travelers – What Does It Mean for You and Your Family?

As we previously reported, President Biden is rescinding the international travel restrictions that have drastically hindered US business and tourist travel for almost 2 years.  Beginning at 12:01 a.m. Eastern Time on Monday, November 8, 2021, travelers will no longer need a valid National Interest Exception if they have been in China, Iran, the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, South Africa, or India within the past 14 days.  Instead, they – and all air travelers to the US, with some very limited exceptions – will have to prove they are “fully vaccinated” before boarding a US-bound flight.

Do I have to be fully vaccinated if I am not a citizen of one of the previously restricted countries?

Yes.  The vaccination requirements apply to all air travelers who are not US citizens or US permanent residents, with the limited exceptions discussed below.

Do I have to be fully vaccinated if I am not traveling from or connecting through one of the previously restricted countries?

Yes.  The vaccination requirements apply to all air travelers who are not US citizens or US permanent residents, regardless of where they are traveling from, with the limited exceptions discussed below.

Do I have to be fully vaccinated if my National Interest Exception is still valid?

Yes.  Pre-existing National Interest Exceptions will become invalid and will no longer be accepted for boarding US flights beginning November 8, 2021.

Do I have to be fully vaccinated in order to apply for a nonimmigrant visa?

No.  You are not required to show proof of vaccination when you schedule a nonimmigrant visa appointment or when you appear at a US consulate for the appointment.  You must show vaccination proof when you board an airplane traveling to the US.

Does this mean US consulates will now resume routine visa appointments again?

No.  While some consular resources will be freed up by not having to process National Interest Exceptions anymore, that is not likely to greatly reduce appointment wait times in the near- or mid-term.  The long backlogs result from local Covid-19 conditions, short staffing, and unmet demand for nonimmigrant visas – circumstances that will not be relieved by the new vaccination requirements for US travel.

Which vaccines are acceptable?

All vaccines that are approved or authorized by the US Food & Drug Administration or on the World Health Organization’s emergency use list will be accepted, as listed at the CDC website and below:

  • Janssen/Johnson & Johnson (Single Dose)

  • Pfizer-BioNTech

  • Moderna

  • AstraZeneca

  • Covishield

  • BIBP/Sinopharm

  • Sinovac

What does “full vaccination” mean?

You are “fully vaccinated” after 14 full days have passed since you received the last dose of a vaccine, the first dose of an approved single-dose vaccine, or any combination of two doses of an approved vaccine.  For example, if you had the last dose on the 1st day of the month, you are fully vaccinated on the 15th day of that month.  See CDC guidance for details.

How can I prove I am fully vaccinated?

CDC Technical Instructions list all of the following vaccination proofs as acceptable:

  • Verifiable digital or paper records, including vaccination certificates or digital passes linked to QR codes, such as the UK’s NHS COVID Pass or the EU’s Digital COVID Certificate

  • Non-verifiable paper vaccination records or certificates issued by national or subnational authorities or authorized private providers, such as the CDC vaccination card

  • Non-verifiable digital photos of vaccination cards or records

  • Vaccination records or certificates downloaded from a public health agency, government agency, or other authorized vaccine provider, or shown on a mobile phone app without a QR code

How will the airline verify that I meet vaccination requirements?

The White House Fact Sheet, issued on October 25, 2021, says that airlines will verify the following information:

  • The name and birthdate on your passport or travel document matches your vaccination record

  • The record was issued by an official source in the country where you were vaccinated, such as a public health agency, government agency, or authorized private provider

  • The vaccine(s) you received were approved or authorized by the US FDA or included on the WHO’s emergency use list

  • The dose(s), date(s), and location(s) of the vaccinations you received meet “full vaccination” requirements

Do I need a translation if my vaccination record is not in English?

Maybe.  If your documents are in a language other than English, check with the airline or aircraft provider before you travel to determine whether airline officials will need to see a translation in order to verify you meet vaccine requirements.

If I am fully vaccinated, do I still have to get a negative Covid-19 test before flying?

Yes.  If you are fully vaccinated, you still must have the test no more than 3 days before your flight departs.  If you meet one of the exceptions to the vaccination requirement, you must have the test within 1 day before your flight departs.  Alternatively, you may present a positive Covid-19 test taken no more than 90 days before the flight and a travel clearance letter from a licensed medical provider.

I am traveling with my child.  Does my child have to be vaccinated or tested?

Children under age 18 are exempt from the vaccination requirement.  Children between ages 2 and 17 must be tested.  A child who is traveling with a fully vaccinated adult must have the test no more than 3 days before the flight.  Children who are traveling alone, like unvaccinated adults, must be tested within 1 day of the flight.

I am immigrating to the United States permanently.  Do I have to be vaccinated?

If your immigrant visa was issued before October 1, 2021, you do not have to be vaccinated prior to arriving, but you must be vaccinated within 60 days of arrival.  On October 1, requirements changed, and immigrants are now required to get Covid-19 vaccinations before their visas are issued.

Do I have to be vaccinated if I am traveling across a land border into the US?

That depends whether your travel is considered essential or non-essential.  Essential travel for unvaccinated individuals will continue to be allowed until January 2022.  At that time, all travelers entering the US across land and ferry borders must be fully vaccinated.  Non‑essential travel for fully vaccinated individuals will be allowed beginning in early November 2021.

Besides children, are there any other exceptions to the vaccination requirement?

Yes.  Several other categories of travelers are automatically exempt or may apply for an exemption.  These include:

  • Participants in Covid-19 clinical trials

  • People with medical contraindications

  • Citizens of countries with less than 10 percent vaccination rates, as long as they are not traveling on tourist (B-1/B-2) visas. If you are a resident, but not a citizen, of one of these countries, you are not exempt.

  • Travelers arriving under humanitarian or emergency exceptions

Exempted individuals are subject to additional post-arrival requirements, including testing, self‑quarantine, and/or vaccination.  The CDC gives details and documentation requirements for these exceptions here.

If I object to vaccination on religious or moral grounds, or if I have already recovered from Covid-19, do I still have to be vaccinated?

Yes.  No exceptions to the vaccination requirements are available on religious or moral grounds, or based on showing recovery from Covid-19.

Copyright © 2022, Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP. All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume XI, Number 305
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About this Author

Suzan Kern Immigration Lawyer Hunton Andrews Kurth
Counsel

Suzan’s practice focuses exclusively on immigration and nationality law.

Suzan represents businesses and individuals in administrative proceedings before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Labor, and U.S. Department of State.

Suzan devotes more than 100 hours annually to pro bono work through direct representation and by mentoring other attorneys. She coordinates the Washington office’s signature pro bono project at the Montgomery County Family Justice Center in Rockville, Maryland, which helps victims of...

202 419 2075 direct
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