Business Travel During the COVID Recovery

US border notice large

Now that the US is seeing lower coronavirus infection rates and higher vaccination rates, the big question for many European businesspeople is whether they can enter the United States for business and under what circumstances? After all, for many foreign companies with US operations, it has been over a year since they’ve been able to hold in-person meetings or otherwise see their business locations and colleagues in the United States. As great as Zoom is, that’s a long time, especially for smaller and mid-sized companies which rely on personal interaction to keep their businesses operating smoothly.

In total there are four different proclamations governing travel into the United States by foreign nationals, with a host of different exceptions and caveats (which you can read about here and here). Unfortunately, the exceptions applicable to foreign nationals who don’t otherwise have a visa (and for many who do) are quite limited, and typically require that the object of the entry involve “vital support for critical infrastructure, … humanitarian travel, public health response, and national security”. Business travelers who don’t fall under one of the enumerated categories can apply for their own individual National Interest Exception, but obtaining those NIEs hasn’t been easy.

Even worse, contrary to what you might expect, as the coronavirus situation in the US has improved it has actually become much more difficult to enter the US from Europe. On March 2, 2021 the Department of State issued new travel restrictions on European travelers which make it much more difficult to obtain an NIE for normal business purposes, doubling down on the specific categories listed above. Even assuming the business traveler qualifies for the NIE, it takes additional time to prepare and process a successful application even as approval rates have declined, limiting the usefulness of the NIE for most business travelers.

As countries outside of Europe gain better access to the US, an alternative remains to travel to a country outside of Europe which is not subject to the same restrictions (such as Mexico) and “quarantine” there before entering the US. It doesn’t seem terribly logical, but spending time at a resort in the Caribbean may be the best (or only) way for certain business travelers to enter the United States right now.

Or you can wait a little while longer. Rumor has it that entry from Europe will be easing up again shortly.

Hat tip to David Spaulding and Jonathan Grode of Green & Spiegel, image courtesy of WMakaristos, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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