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How COVID has changed travel visa requirements

Over the last year, countries have been adjusting their border policies for visitors and immigrants in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.

In this article, we’ll explore current visa guidelines around the world. We’ll discuss the rules and exceptions in place for travelers hoping to visit different countries on a non-immigrant basis, as well as changes in requirements for people making a permanent move. 

Travel and visa guidance for traveling to:

Travel to the United States

For travelers hoping to head to the United States, the U.S. State Department has suspended routine visa services at U.S. Embassies and Consulates, with the exception of emergency visa requests. If you work as air or sea crew, or if you’re in a medical field – particularly if you’re working to treat or mitigate COVID-19 – you may be able to get an emergency visa.

Visas for permanent entry to the United States

Entry to the U.S. has been suspended for travelers with/seeking the following visas:

  • H-1B & H-2B – Employer-sponsored visa for immigrant employees.
  • J-1 & J-2 – Visas for non-U.S. citizens participating in internships, teaching, summer camp, au pair or similar work.
  • L-1A – Visa for managerial or executive employees located outside the U.S. transferring to a position inside the U.S.
  • L-1B – Similar to L-1A, but referring to employees with specialized knowledge.

Visas for temporary entry to the United States

If you have an ePassport issued by one of the 39 countries that participate in the visa waiver program (VWP) you may visit the United States without a non-immigrant visa by filling out the I-94W form which is typically provided on inbound flights to the U.S. 

Travelers from these 39 countries can travel to the U.S. without applying for a visa. Visitors who enter the U.S. via the VWP cannot extend their stay, nor can they change their visa type once they’re in the country.

Non-ePassport holders will need to apply for the appropriate visa from the list below.

  • B-1 – Used for visiting for business, educational, or legal matters.
  • B-2 – Tourism, visiting friends/relatives, or medical treatment.

You can learn more about B-1 and B-2 visas on the U.S. State Department website.

Travel to the European Union and the UK

You may hear parts of Europe described as “Schengen States” or “Schengen Area.” These are 26 countries which committed to an agreement made in Schengen, Luxembourg, to allow border crossings without passports or other controls. The UK and Ireland are not part of the Schengen States, so we’ll address those countries separately in a moment.

The 26 Schengen Area countries are:

AustriaBelgiumCzech RepublicDenmark
EstoniaFinlandFranceGermany
GreeceHungaryIcelandItaly
LatviaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourg
MaltaNetherlandsNorwayPoland
PortugalSlovakiaSloveniaSpain
SwedenSwitzerland

Visas for temporary entry to Schengen States

Visas in the Schengen Area are tricky, with two important things to note. First, the visa type will limit where you can go and for how long; second, for Type C Visas, the number of entries to a country may be limited, so if you leave a country and have a single-entry visa, you will not be allowed to return to it later.

Let’s look at the visa types:

Type A Visa – If you have a layover in any of these states, even if your final destination is not in Europe, you’ll need an “airport transit visa.”

Type C Visa – A “short stay” visa allows travelers to spend up to 90 days in a 180-day period visiting the Schengen States. This is the visa you will use if you’re staying in any of the Schengen Countries.

Type D Visa – The national “long stay visa” allows you to stay in a country for more than 90 days for employment, education, family reunification or certain other cultural, scientific or religious events.

You probably noticed there’s no Type B Visa – it was replaced by the Type C Visa for short visits.

Type C Visas will include an additional piece of information – whether you can return to countries you’ve left.

Single Entry Visa – These visas will allow travelers to enter a country once, but if you leave you can’t return unless you have a new visa.

Double Entry Visa – Just like a Single Entry Visa, but it allows the traveler to enter a country twice.

Multiple Entry Visa – Allows the visa-holder to travel in and out of countries without limitation for the duration of the visa. Multiple Entry Visas are issued for periods of one, three, or five years.

During “normal” times, you’d need to submit your visa application 15 to 180 days before you travel. Your application should be submitted to the consulate of the first country you will arrive in, within the Schengen Area.

However, these aren’t normal times, and many Schengen States have either suspended cross-border rail services or implemented restrictions for border crossings and flights. You can right here on TripsGuard, or visit Schengenvisainfo.com for more details about COVID-related restrictions.

You can find more information about Schengen visas on Europa.eu

Visas for the UK and Ireland

The UK and Ireland are not in the list of Schengen States. The Republic of Ireland and the UK have an agreement called the Common Travel Area which allows free movement between the UK and Ireland, and they opted-out of the Schengen Agreement to maintain their own border policies, separate from the Schengen Countries.

This means that if you’re traveling to the UK or Ireland, you’ll need a separate visa. And if you plan on visiting multiple countries including the UK or Ireland and any Schengen State, you’ll need a Schengen visa AND a UK/Ireland visa.

The UK’s government website gov.uk can help you check what kind of visa you need.

Visas for permanent entry to the EU or the UK

If you’re a citizen of any of the Schengen States, you may live and work in any Schengen State, no visa required!

For emigrating to a European Union country, the rules will vary depending on where you’re planning to emigrate to and why you want to emigrate. You can find information about your specific situation on Europa.eu. Broadly speaking, you should secure a Type D Visa and then apply for permanent residence once you’re living in the country you want to emigrate to.

If you’re thinking of moving to the United Kingdom, gov.uk has a wealth of answers about emigrating to the UK. Since via requirements and processes vary depending on the country you’re leaving, gov.uk is your best source for accurate information.

Travel to the rest of the world

Wherever you’re traveling to or from, the most up-to-date guidance can be found on the Consulate or Embassy website for the country you’re visiting and is just a Google search away.

Be sure to research the correct type of visa – if you’re planning on staying for a few days, you’ll likely need a temporary on non-immigrant visa, while longer stays may require a different visa, more paperwork, preparation, and processing time.

Get continually-updated information to help you make the best travel decisions for you and your family with TripsGuard – and take peace of mind with you when you go.

Returning home after visiting the other countries

If you’re planning to leave and return to your country of origin, please be sure to check that your home country is admitting returning travelers from the country you visit.  

Your home country may have mandatory restrictions or requirements for travelers entering, which you should check before you leave your country of origin. The restrictions may include:

  • Self-isolate at your own expense for up to 14 days
  • Report to a quarantine facility 
  • Submit a recent negative COVID-19 test prior to travel
  • Take a COVID-19 test upon arrival
  • Take additional COVID-19 tests during your stay
  • Complete a travel health questionnaire
  • Wear a GPS bracelet for up to 14 days
  • Install a contact tracing app on your phone
  • Observe local curfews

You can learn more about planning your travels during COVID-19 in our previous blog post.