It has been a little over one month since President’s proclamation restricting arrival of travelers from the pandemic-hit India, except certain groups, took effect on May 4, 2021. The temporary ban on entry into the United States for travelers from India principally applies to non-American residents having neither a US-born kid nor a spouse with legal permanent residency (LPR). It has mostly affected H1B, H4, L1, L2 and B1/B2 visa holders among non-immigrant groups. The articles below tell a disheartening story of how some non-immigrant families suffered a split-up in the wake of the USA’s travel restriction for India.
- This H1B visa holder traveled to India for family emergency but got stuck there
- US travel ban splits up this Indian family forever
However, the Department of State provides the National Interest Exception (NIE), a special entry permit, allowing those stuck or stranded in India to fly back to America, given their humanitarian activities or service in critical infrastructure sectors including national security, public health care, and information technology. Many individuals, among H1B, H4, L1 and L2 visa holders, working in any of the 16 critical infrastructure sectors (listed by the Department of State) have been granted an NIE to travel back to the US.
Those who want to travel to the US for one of the following purposes:
You can apply for NIE approval on grounds of seeking lifesaving medical treatment in the United States. In this category, close family members accompanying the principal applicant are also eligible for NIE.
You can seek NIE approval if your purpose of travel is to provide care for a US citizen, lawful permanent resident, or a non-immigrant in lawful status (who must be a close family member). This comes under the ‘humanitarian travel’ category.
You can apply for NIE as a medical escort, legal guardian, or any other escort if you are required by an airline or a foreign medical or law enforcement entity to accompany a US citizen (minor or adult) from India to the US.
You can apply for NIE in the public health category if your purpose of travel is to curb the Novel Coronavirus pandemic or to continue the research for considerable public health benefit (e.g., cancer or a communicable disease).
You can seek an NIE travel permit as a derivative family member to accompany or follow to join a noncitizen in the US, who has already received, or is expected to receive NIE approval, or is involved in certain types of research, studies or long-term employment in the US, or is not subject to the Presidential Proclamations.
You can seek NIE approval if you are a pilot or a member of aircrew traveling for training or aircraft pickup, delivery or maintenance.
You can apply for a National Interest Exception if you work in any of the critical infrastructure sectors listed below, or provide vital support for ‘significant economic activity’ in the US.
16 Critical Infrastructure Sectors eligible for National Interest Exception
The United States’ critical infrastructure workers of foreign origin are exempt from the Presidential Proclamation 10199 and eligible for National Interest Exception. Indian nationals who work for US businesses in “critical infrastructure” sectors or industries can apply for the NIE travel waiver for entry into the US. The US government has identified 16 industries as critical infrastructure sectors and vital to the American economy. These sectors are:
- Commercial facilities
- Critical manufacturing
- Defense industrial base
- Emergency services
- Financial services
- Food and agriculture
- Government facilities
- Healthcare and public health
- Information technology
- Nuclear reactors, materials, and waste
- Transportation systems
- Water and wastewater systems
If you are separated from your family in the US and looking to travel back, but you don’t meet the eligibility criteria for an NIE, there is still a way out. You can apply for an NIE on grounds of family separation. Many non-immigrant US visa holders from India seeking family reunion got NIE travel approval for entry into America.
National Interest Exception (NIE) Email Template
You need to seek NIE approval from the US consulate where the visa was stamped on your passport. If the US Embassy, New Delhi has given you the visa, you should send an email to NewDelhiNIE@state.gov. If it is the US Consulate Chennai, you should send an email application to ChennaiNIE@state.gov. MumbaiNIE@state.gov for writing to the US Consulate Mumbai, and HyderabadNIE@state.gov for the US Consulate General Hyderabad.
Your email requesting NIE approval for travel to USA must include all the following details of you if you are the traveler:
- Last name:
- First name:
- Date of birth (MM-DD-YYYY):
- Place of birth:
- Country of citizenship:
- Passport number:
- Visa Number*:
- Visa Category:
- Issuing Post Name (upper left corner of visa):
- Travel dates (MM-DD-YYYY):
- Travel purpose:
- National interest category:
- Clear justification for receipt of a NIE:
(*The visa number, also known as the visa foil number, is located on the lower right of the visa.)
NIE approvals for travel to USA, if granted, are valid for 12 months from the date of approval and for multiple entries as long as you use the NIE permit for the purpose under which it is granted to you. If a NIE waiver is granted to you, you will receive an email confirmation as below. Please note, all NIE requests are considered on a case-by-case basis. Email applications for NIE travel approval in languages other than English will take a little longer than usual to get response.
“Dear Applicant, you have been approved for a national interest exception to Presidential Proclamation 10199 restricting entry to the United States of individuals who have been physically present in India during the pandemic. This exception is approved for travel to the United States and is valid for multiple entries within 12 months from the date of approval.”
If you qualify for a National Interest Exception because of an emergency need for return travel to USA from India, but you don’t have a valid visa, you can request an expedited appointment for visa renewal through the online system. You need to mention you qualify for an NIE on what grounds in your request for an expedited visa appointment and provide supporting documentation.
You are a US citizen/Green card holder. Recently, you lost your father and your mother is all alone in India. You want to take her to the US. Though she (on B2 visa) is not eligible for an NIE waiver, you can seek a National Interest Exception for her on the humanitarian ground. You must justify your request for an NIE for you mother with maximum possible information and all supporting documents, in your email application to the relevant US consular office in India.