Can NIE help you fly from India beating Covid travel ban?

Some US visa holders stuck in India are seeking National Interest Exception (NIE) to fly back. 

It’s been over a week since H-4 visa holder, Natasha N (name withheld on request) applied for NIE or National Interest Exception, a waiver that may allow her to fly back to her family in the US.

An Alabama resident, Natasha, like hundreds of other Indians living on visas in the US had come to India earlier in March to attend to a family emergency.

However, what was a personal emergency turned into a national emergency and with Covid escalating in India, she found herself stuck in India.

The eldest of her two children is in the US and she wants to reach her family back there as soon as possible. Since none of her kids were born in the US, she is not eligible for any exceptions.

“Family separation, though a grave emergency, perhaps is not counted as a ‘real emergency,’ in immigration parlance,” she says.

While Natasha still awaits an answer to her NIE application, many others have managed to obtain permission to fly back to the US, given their circumstances.

Read: To beat travel ban, Detroit man flies home via Turkey (May 31, 2021)

Preet K. who recently travelled from Mumbai to the US on NIE was lucky enough to get it approved within a week.

Currently on an H-1B visa, she says what may have worked in her favor was the fact that she worked in healthcare field and cited loss to her crucial research work as a reason to travel back.

But what exactly is NIE, and how can it help those who have been suffering because of the travel ban?

Since the beginning of Covid 19 pandemic, travel and immigration have been impacted leading to new regulations every now and then with country bans on health grounds becoming the order of the day.

Meanwhile, the US authorities have introduced NIE or National Interest Exception to allow entry of those persons back into the US whose presence is considered to be in national interest.

Generally people who are involved in healthcare sectors or provide services in critical infrastructure can apply for a waiver.

The US Department of State has listed 16 Critical Infrastructure Sectors as those eligible for a waiver. Individuals working in any of these sectors are eligible to apply for NIE.

Information Technology, another popular sector among Indians in America, has been recognized as eligible to be considered for NIE.

Read: Indians seek travel companions for parents coming via Mexico (June 8, 2021)

However, as is expected, each case is decided on its own merits and there is no thumb rule to guarantee a waiver. The timeline under which the permission can be obtained also varies from case to case.

Some of those who applied were able to get a positive reply within three days while a few others, the American Bazaar spoke to were still awaiting any answer even after ten days of application.

Some informed that despite sending follow up mails, they were yet to hear anything from the authorities.

Also included in the exceptions are F-1 visa holders or academics who are eligible to apply for NIE if their classes begin in the US on or after August 1, 2021.

However since the  cases are many, it may be fair to expect some delays in the permission process.

Another query coming up in immigration forums has been about whether those with B-1 B-2 visas can apply for NIE.

The short answer to that would be that a B1 B2 visa has not been identified as one eligible to expect an exception.

While there have been queries, we are yet to hear of anyone who was able to obtain an exception on a visit visa.

According to immigration experts, if someone has some extraordinary circumstances they may try to obtain the exception on humanitarian grounds. For the majority of others, for the time being, a trip to the US seems a long way off.

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