Updated: U.S. Imposes New Travel Restrictions Due to Emerging Omicron COVID Variant

Last Updated on February 23, 2023

NOTE: This article was originally published on Nov. 29, 2021. It was updated on Dec. 27, 2021 to reflect new information from the White House. The article was previously updated on Dec. 03, 2021 to provide additional requirements from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) following new travel guidance announced by President Biden on Dec. 02, 2021.  

Dec. 27 Update: Starting at midnight EST on Dec. 31, 2021, the U.S. government is expected to lift an existing southern African travel ban that went into effect on Nov. 29, 2021. The ban is expected to be lifted due to updated guidance and advice from President Biden’s medical team. Although travelers from the affected countries may be able to enter the U.S. starting later this week, they would still be subject to the same requirements as all other inbound international travelers, including a requirement to provide proof of full vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours of travel, with some caveats. As of the time of publication, a formal government announcement has not been made. 

Dec. 03 Update: New guidance from the CDC states that beginning 12:01 AM EST on Monday, Dec. 06, 2021, all inbound travelers aged 2 and older who plan to enter the U.S. by air must either provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test result (taken within 24 hours of departure) or verify recovery from infection. An antigen test or a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) are both cited as sufficient tests for the protocol. This testing requirement applies to all inbound air travelers aged 2 and older, regardless of citizenship, immigration, or vaccination status.   

Individuals who have been infected by COVID-19 and recovered may present documentation of their recovery and a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official clearing the individual for travel. Travelers seeking to qualify for entry based on recovery from COVID-19 should consult the full guidance from the CDC about documentation required as proof of recovery from the disease.  

Dec. 02 Update: In response to increasing concerns about the new Omicron variant circulating worldwide, President Biden has announced additional protocols for international travel. Starting Monday, Dec. 06, 2021,  all inbound international travelers must get a COVID-19 test within 24 hours of departure to the U.S. This requirement applies to all travelers, regardless of vaccination status and nationality.   

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also released additional guidance confirming that all travelers age 2 and older must show a negative result to their airline before boarding an inbound U.S. flight. Alternatively, individuals who have been infected but recovered from COVID-19 can present documentation of their recovery (such as a positive COVID-19 test result taken within 90 days of departure) and a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official clearing the individual for travel. Further, clarification is expected on testing for children under the age of 2, which has not been required previously.   

Additionally, all travelers must wear masks on airplanes, trains and other forms of public transportation. Masks must also be worn in transportation hubs. This requirement will remain in effect through March 18, 2022. Noncompliance will result in fines.  


Starting Nov. 29, 2021, the U.S. government will impose new travel restrictions on foreign nationals arriving from South Africa and seven other southern African countries due to the new Omicron variant.     


The new travel restriction bars most foreign nationals from entry into the U.S. if they have been physically present in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, or Zimbabwe in the 14 days preceding U.S. entry.   

Who is Affected?  

The travel restrictions, which are outlined in a White House proclamation, apply to both immigrant and nonimmigrant foreign nationals. The restrictions apply to most individuals with recent travel to southern Africa seeking entry into the U.S. by air. 

As with previous COVID-19 travel restrictions, there are some exemptions. U.S. citizens and permanent residents, in addition to their spouses and minor children or siblings, are allowed to enter the U.S. while this proclamation remains in effect.  

Other select individuals are also exempt from the travel restrictions, including noncitizens of the U.S. whose entry is considered in the national interest, individuals who have been invited to the U.S. to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, air and sea crew, and a few other select categories.  

A previous proclamation indicating vaccination status would apply for U.S. entries is no longer applicable to recent travel from the specific eight southern African countries.  

Looking Ahead  

The State Department is responsible for implementing the presidential proclamation. The proclamation will remain in effect until the U.S. government ends its enforcement. Updates will be provided as available.  


Envoy is pleased to provide you this information, which was prepared in collaboration with Anne Walsh and Ian Love, who are Partners at Global Immigration Associates (GIA), one of the two independent U.S. law firms Envoy exclusively works with on the Envoy Platform (the "U.S. Law Firms").        

Content in this publication is for informational purposes only and not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult an attorney at one of the two U.S. Law Firms working with the Envoy Platform or another qualified professional. On non-U.S. immigration issues, consult an Envoy global immigration service provider or another qualified representative.