White House Announces New COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Requirements for Air Travelers to US

Written by David S. Rugendorf

Yesterday, October 25, 2021, the White House issued its long-awaited vaccination and testing requirements for noncitizen/nonpermanent resident air travelers to the United States. The new requirements, which will take effect at 12:01 a.m. on November 8, 2021, replace the previous travel restrictions – no longer will travelers physically present in certain specified geographic regions (China, UK, Ireland, Europe (Schengen countries), South Africa, Brazil, Iran) be required to obtain National Interest Exceptions (NIEs), or alternatively lay over for more than 14 days in an unrestricted third country. The previous travel restrictions, issued in 2020 and 2021, are revoked as of November 8.

Instead, noncitizen travelers must provide proof of “fully vaccinated” status in order to enter the United States by air, subject to limited exceptions, such as age (lack of authorized vaccine for age group), medical reasons, residence in a country where vaccines are available, and other limited categories.  The White House proclamation did not provide a list of acceptable vaccines, and nor did it provide any indication as to how an individual is expected to provide proof of vaccination.  However, in a separate announcement, the State Department clarified that any FDA or World Health Organization (WHO) authorized vaccine is acceptable.  The State Department also said proof of vaccination may include “a paper or digital record issued by an official source and should include the traveler’s name and date of birth, as well as the vaccine product and date(s) of administration for all doses the traveler received.” 

With limited exceptions, non-fully vaccinated individuals must provide proof of pre-departure COVID testing (per CDC guidelines), as well as proof of having arranged for post arrival testing and possible self-quarantine.  Any non-fully vaccinated individual must also agree to become fully vaccinated within 60 days of arrival in the United States by air, unless the CDC imposes a different time frame.  There are limited exceptions to the requirement to become fully vaccinated after arrival, such as a “sufficiently brief” stay (as determined by CDC).  Fully vaccinated adults will continue to be required to show documentation of a pre-departure negative viral test, one taken within three days of departure.

The White House also directed the Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC to determine which vaccines are acceptable, and to implement other procedures related to the enforcement of the new rules. Related to the proclamation, the Department of State has sent email correspondence to our office in which it states that, in order to enter by air, a fully vaccinated traveler must provide:

  1. A valid travel document (a passport, and as applicable, a visa or an ESTA)
  2. Full COVID vaccination: For travelers 12 years and older, proof of completed COVID vaccination with a WHO-approved vaccine. This means one shot of a one-dose vaccine (currently only Johnson & Johnson/Jansen) OR two shots from a two-shot vaccine. Both shots do not need to be from the same vaccine.
  3. A negative COVID-19 test: All travelers – including those already vaccinated, U.S. citizens and including transit passengers — aged 2 and older will need to present a negative COVID-19 test result (PCR, including PCR saliva, or antigen) performed in the three days before travel OR evidence of having contracted and recovered from COVID-19 prior in the prior 3 months.

The new rules do not appear to be applicable to travelers who attempt to enter the United States by land or sea.  As this policy is subject to changes and modifications, we recommend that anyone contemplating air travel to the United States watch for further announcements.  Should any significant developments occur, we will advise.

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