The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is making it a little easier for some foreign nationals to fly to the United States by lifting certain restrictions in place following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the restrictions, any airplanes carrying passengers who had recently travelled to or had been present in China, Iran, the 26 countries in the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Brazil but were exempt or received waivers to enter the U.S. were required to land at a limited number of U.S. airports. At those designated airports, there were public health resources for conducting enhanced entry screening. The 15 international airports were in:

  1. Atlanta
  2. Boston
  3. Chicago
  4. Dallas-Fort Worth
  5. Detroit
  6. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood
  7. Honolulu
  8. Houston
  9. Los Angeles
  10. Miami
  11. New York City
  12. Newark
  13. San Francisco
  14. Seattle-Tacoma
  15. Washington-Dulles

Now, those restrictions have been lifted. This change should make it easier for covered travelers, as they will have more flights, more airlines, and more U.S. arrival destinations to choose from for international travel.

According to its announcement, DHS hopes to stimulate air travel while using its health resources more effectively. Due to COVID-19, TSA hit a low point in daily travelers in mid-April – 87,534. On September 20, 2020, TSA reported 847,968 – a 10-fold increase. But, about three times as many passengers were screened on the same date in 2019 – 2,517,826.

Despite the changes, DHS will continue using an illness reporting system and passenger education for all arriving passengers, along with other TSA health measures. So that passengers and TSA employees “Stay Healthy and Stay Secure” during the screening process, the Agency has instituted, among other things:

  • Social distancing
  • A mask requirement
  • Plastic shielding
  • Increased cleaning
  • To make screening more “contactless”:
    • Each traveler holds their own IDs and boarding passes and places them on the reader, rather than handing the documents to the screener
    • Screeners will use new gloves for each pat down and new explosive trace swabs for each passenger
    • Belts and other items, including change and paper currency, that must be removed from pockets will be placed in the traveler’s own carry-ons, not in bins
  • Each traveler will be allowed to have up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer in their carry-ons
  • To accommodate identification problems caused by COVID-19 closings:
    • Driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs that expired on or after March 1, 2020, and could not be renewed can be used as identification for up to one year after expiration
    • REAL ID enforcement deadline originally scheduled for October 1, 2020, has been changed and pushed out until October 1, 2021

Even though international travel is down, TSA still recommends arriving early for flights because COVID-19 has affected staffing throughout the airport environment.

If you have questions about international travel and visa restrictions, Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to assist you.