As a US expat currently living as a British expat in Oklahoma (just ask my accountant), I know all too well that many US states are ‘open for business’ while the UK and most of Europe have remained resolutely closed. However, as a US immigration attorney for more than 15 years, I know that ‘open for business’ and ‘open for international investment and job creation’ have proven to mean two different things with a variety of US travel bans that originated initially in the interest of containing the Covid-19 pandemic.
Since March 2020, anyone physically present in the UK, Ireland and all Schengen countries within the previous 14 days has been banned from entering the US. There are exceptions to the ban, such as US citizens, some qualifying relatives, air crew members, students and more, but almost all business travellers, investors and prospective investors are banned.
This ban made little difference when the world stood still through July 2020 – almost nobody was hopping on a plane – but as some destinations began to reopen, eager and desperate entrepreneurs were looking to get back to their abandoned businesses and/or start a new enterprise stateside, since US states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and Georgia had famously only closed briefly in the pandemic.
No exceptions for travellers of economic interest to the US
Included in the initial travel bans, an exemption was made for travellers who were travelling in the US national interest, which included the economic interests of the US. What quickly became apparent was that anyone who wanted to travel during these uncertain times had an important reason to do so – often to the financial benefit of the US. Importantly, these requests for travel – which are made on behalf of each individual traveller to a US Consular Section or a US port of entry – were being granted for a variety of reasons that were in the US economic interests, including executive-level business meetings, manufacturing site visits, and visits to US cities to open US offices and create jobs. Business visitors, employment-based visa holders and others were granted permission to go the US for business meetings if we, as their immigration counsel, could show US investment and/or job creation potential. These were documented with evidence that was reviewed and approved by a US government agency.