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The State of Play: Business travel to the United States from the United Kingdom

Travel between the United Kingdom and the United States remains extremely restricted at this time, with no specific dates set for a return to normal procedures. The following is a brief review of where things stand for business travellers looking to visit the United States. As the rules are evolving rapidly, the details below are subject to change and should not be relied upon without further independent confirmation.

Rules set by United Kingdom for departure

The U.K. Government confirms on its website, as of 30 April 2021, “Whilst the stay in UK restrictions are in place, you are only allowed to leave the UK from England if you have a reasonable excuse. This applies to holders of UK and non-UK passports. It is illegal to travel abroad without a reasonable excuse. Travel abroad for holidays is not permitted.” These restrictions also apply in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, although the wording of the requirements vary slightly between the four nations.

Reasonable excuses for international travel include essential business reasons, although it would be prudent to obtain supporting documentation in case authorities at the airport wish to review.

If departing from England, it is necessary (with a few exceptions) to complete a declaration form online prior to flying out. See https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-declaration-form-for-international-travel for details.

Rules set by USA for entry

In order to travel to the United States for business, U.K. nationals may be eligible use the Visa Waiver Program, allowing visits of up to 90 days with preauthorisation through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). Assuming a valid ESTA is in place, a business traveller would still be subject to an open-ended U.S. Presidential Proclamation banning travel to the United States by anyone who has been in the United Kingdom within the preceding 14 days. (There are other proclamations banning travel from Schengen countries, the Republic of Ireland, and some additional countries.) Note that there are some exceptions to the Proclamation including for certain relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.

To overcome the travel ban, a business traveller physically present in the United Kingdom may apply for a national interest exception (NIE or 212f waiver) at the U.S. Embassy in London.  This is done by electronic application (contact form and email) within the 30 days before the travel date. If a business traveller is not eligible for or is refused an NIE, the only route to the United States is by first going to a third (non-banned) country for 16 days. On the 16th day after entry to the third country, it would then be possible to book onward travel to the United States. This alternative is predicated on there being a suitable third country option (i.e., a country that will allow entry.) Every country has its own rules for testing, entry, tracking and quarantine.

To travel to the United States, everyone must obtain a COVID-19 test one to three days before travel. On arrival, the CDC recommends seven days of self-quarantine and additional testing. There are also different quarantine and testing requirements in the 50 states and in some localities.

Rules set by the United Kingdom for return

To return to the United Kingdom, business travellers would need to obtain another pre-flight COVID-19 test. There are further mandatory testing and self-isolation requirements in the United Kingdom for international arrivals, which vary between the four nations. In Scotland, there is a quarantine hotel requirement for 10 days for all international arrivals. In England, the quarantine hotel requirement just applies to “red list” points of origin, which excludes the United States. The required testing and quarantine hotel stay (where necessary) can add thousands of dollars and extreme inconvenience to the costs of travel.

The rules are changing all the time so if you need advice or guidance before travelling, please do not hesitate to contact our a member of our US Immigration practice.

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