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I’ll Be Home for Christmas? Immigration Considerations for Holiday Travel to Ireland

At McEntee Law, our team has been fielding questions about holiday travel since the beginning of the pandemic. “Can I travel?” is a quick question to ask, but not a quick one to answer. In the past several months, we have seen how rapidly international travel restrictions can change, and those changes may be to an immigrant’s detriment after they leave the U.S. “Can I travel?” is a perfectly reasonable question, but it doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all answer. The answer may depend on your immigration status and on your specific circumstances.

If you are planning to travel to Ireland, you may have heard about the “COVID Travel Ban(s)” which bans individuals who have been physically present in Ireland (and the U.K., among other European countries) at any time in the 14 days prior to attempting to enter the U.S. These travel bans are based on physical presence in Ireland, or one of the other countries, and not on citizenship of that country. Even a connecting flight in a country subject to the travel ban will potentially make you subject to that ban.

Avoiding international travel is always the lowest-risk option, but sometimes family emergencies make travel inevitable, and we can certainly understand the desire to be home for the holidays. Isolating in a non-restricted country for 14 days prior to re-entering to the U.S. may also be an option, as opposed to trying to travel directly from Ireland. However, given the rapidly evolving nature of the pandemic, there is always a risk that the third country could experience an outbreak and travel restrictions could change.

There are also specific exceptions to these travel bans which we’ll outline here. Others may qualify for a National Interest Exception (NIE), such as healthcare researchers, students, investors, and specific professionals who support the U.S.’s economic recovery from the pandemic. However, the first and most important considerations are your status, your travel documents, and your risks. We’ll break those down too.

This article is not legal advice. It contains basic information about travel restrictions for Irish green card and visa holders to consider before making any travel plans. The information in the article is accurate as of the date of publication. Things are changing so rapidly that the information in this article may change by the time it reaches you.
The only way to get advice on your specific situation is to speak with an experienced U.S. immigration attorney, but we hope that this general information is helpful.
Do you have a valid green card?

Lawful permanent residents (LPRs or green card holders), spouses of U.S. citizens and LPRs, and parents of minor U.S. citizens and LPRs are exempt from this COVID travel ban. However, their entry may be subject to increased scrutiny due to the pandemic. They may also be subject to state and local quarantine and testing regulations when they return to the U.S. More information on that is available through local department of health websites.

Green card holders with cards close to expiring, or those with any pending case, really need to consult an attorney before considering international travel.

For those with pending green card cases, avoiding non-emergency international travel is generally recommended. However, should an emergency arise, the immigration attorney for the case should be able to give specific advice on travel.  

Do you have a valid visa stamp?
In addition to travel restrictions, the pandemic has also caused U.S. embassies and consulates around the world to suspend and restrict routine visa services. As of the date of this article, the U.S. Embassy in Dublin has not fully resumed routine services, so those who need a new visa stamp may have trouble getting an appointment. Without a valid stamp, re-enter to the U.S. may be impossible. For specific advice, we highly recommend reaching out to an immigration attorney.

Can you qualify for a National Interest Exception to the Ban?
Student visa holders (F-1 and M-1 visa) may be permitted to enter the U.S. without seeking an individual national interest exception (NIE) waiver as their entry may be generally deemed to be in the national interest. However, we would always recommend contacting the international students’ office in the university/college prior to departing/re-entering the U.S. to ensure travel is recommended.

Our office has also been successful in getting National Interest Exception (NIE) waivers from the U.S. Embassy in Dublin for some clients. This option may be available to some ESTA/Visa Waiver travelers and some visa holders including H-1B visas, E-1 and E-2 visas, L-1s, academics, and J-1s. In order to qualify for the NIE, we must prove that it is in the national interest of the U.S. to allow these individuals to enter the country despite the travel ban. The U.S. government has broad discretion over the adjudication of these waivers and, in the interest of putting your best foot forward, we recommend that you seek the assistance of an experienced immigration lawyer.

To conclude, while we would love to tell you that you can definitely go home for the holidays the reality is much more complex. While leaving the U.S. may be easy, returning may be a different story. If you have an immigration attorney, or if the employer who sponsored your case does, it is in your best interest to reach out to them, because they know you best. If you would like to chat with our team at McEntee Law Group about this, we would be happy to hear from you.