Students, academics, and some engineers from SA can now also travel to the US – in theory
- The USA has updated its list of National Interest Exceptions, which allow travellers from countries including South Africa to bypass coronavirus travel restrictions.
- Journalists, students, academics, and those in critical infrastructure can now apply for American visas.
- Earlier in April, exceptions were made for some types of teachers and au pairs.
- But visa appointments may not be available.
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More South Africans can now apply to travel to the United States of America under a system that bypasses the coronavirus restrictions on everyone else.
The National Interest Exception (NIE) list will now include "[s]tudents seeking to commence studies in the fall, certain academics, journalists, and individuals who provide critical infrastructure support," US Department of State Secretary Antony Blinken announced.
The NIE list specifically applies to travellers originating from, or who have spent time in, Brazil, China, Iran, or South Africa. Everyone else from those countries is barred from the USA.
The decision to restrict travel to America was associated with fears around the 501Y.V2 variant of Covid-19 first detected in the Eastern Cape.
Many other countries exempt only citizens or residents from such entry restrictions, but the USA has used the NIE list to practically implement what it describes as a "commitment to facilitate legitimate travel".
South African agricultural workers have been exempt from the US travel ban since January. Earlier this month they were joined by South Africans holding valid immigrant or fiancé(e) K-1 visas, and a list of "exchange visitors", including:
- au pairs who are able to provide specialised care for minor US citizens with particular needs – medical, special education, or sign language
- au pairs who take care of children whose parents are either frontline healthcare workers or medical researchers involved in work around Covid-19
- South Africans in bilateral exchange programmes which are "designed to promote US national interests", as long as that programme is endorsed by the US government at federal, state, or local government level
- interns and trainees on US government agency-sponsored programmes
- specialised teachers, who hold a degree-equivalent to a US bachelor’s degree in either education or the academic subject field in which they intend to teach, as long as they have at least two years’ experience and "possess sufficient proficiency in the English language".
But the American government has bluntly warned that a theoretical exemption is not the same as an actual visa.
"The pandemic continues to limit the number of visas our embassies and consulates abroad are able to process," said the state department in a statement.
"As always, visa applicants should check the website of the nearest Embassy or Consulate for the most up-to-date information about visa appointment availability."
(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)
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