The Department of State (DOS) has provided more details to the Consulates on the national interest exemption under President Donald Trump’s June 22, 2020, executive order.

The “Presidential Proclamation Suspending Entry of Aliens Who Present a Risk to the U.S. Labor Market Following the Coronavirus Outbreak” bars holders of certain visas from entering the U.S. not due to concerns about contagion, but ostensibly as a way to preserve jobs for Americans. The order restricts the entry of certain H-1B, H-2B, L-1, and J-1 nonimmigrants, along with their dependents until the end of 2020.

Unemployment has increased dramatically in the United States, from a low of 3.2% in February 2020, to a high of over 14% two months later. Unemployment has continued to decline in the following months as companies bring back employees to get their businesses moving again. Many businesses have been hampered in their efforts to return to full operations by the inability of critical employees, many with very specialized skills and training who are not citizens of the U.S., to enter the country for work.

Several exceptions were listed in the proclamation, but interpretations as to how to qualify varied. DOS has provided the Consulates details on the national interest exceptions for H and L visas. The details are focused on healthcare and medical research needs (both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19), including whether the applicant was facilitating continued economic recovery and doing essential work in critical infrastructure. Longevity with the employer and whether denial of the visa would cause economic hardship for the company also will be considered.

DOS also has provided a non-exclusive list of examples, leaving open more possibilities. Following are some examples of exceptions for H-1B employees (comparable examples apply to H-2B and L-1 visas):

  • Healthcare professionals working on COVID-19 or in other important medical areas, such as cancer or communicable diseases.
  • Healthcare professionals working in areas that have been adversely affected by COVID-19 – perhaps providing medical services that have had to be curtailed due to COVID-19, such as providing rehabilitation services or other services deemed “non-essential” due to COVID-19.
  • Applicants seeking to resume ongoing employment in the same position, in the same visa classification, with the same employer because having to replace such an individual might cause the company financial hardship.
  • Travel by technical specialists, senior level managers, and others whose travel is necessary to the economic recovery of the U.S. by showing two of five factors:
    • The continuing need for the employee, including a showing that the essential functions cannot be accomplished remotely
    • The employee will provide unique contributions in critical infrastructure sectors: chemical, communications, dams, defense industrial base, emergency services, energy, financial services, food and agriculture, government facilities, healthcare and public health, information technology, nuclear reactors, transportation, and water systems
    • The employees’ wage exceeds the prevailing wage by at least 15%
    • The employee has unusual expertise demonstrated by their background
    • Denial of the visa will cause financial hardship to the company, as shown by:
      • Employer will not be able to meet financial or contractual obligations
      • Employer will not be able to continue its business
      • Employer will not be able to return to pre-COVID-19 level of operation

As to J-1 visas, there are exceptions for au pairs for children with special needs or whose parents do COVID-19-related work.

The initial hurdle to convincing a Consulate to grant a waiver is getting an appointment, which may itself require proving national interest.

Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to assist employers navigate this process. We are helping U.S. businesses get back to full operation by evaluating and developing arguments for employees in H, L, and J status who may qualify for an exception to the employment-based visa restrictions, as well as the Schengen and other COVID-19-related travel restrictions.