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National Interest Exceptions

Dear AJS International Members,

We know how concerned many of you are about all of the issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, one of which is the current travel restrictions that limit entry for a number of foreign nationals into the US. While we hope that conditions will improve and that these restrictions will be lifted in full in the coming weeks and months, we’re writing with information that *may* allow you to travel to the AJS Conference in Chicago this December, despite the current restrictions.

The U.S. State Department has been offering National Interest Exceptions (NIEs) for certain foreign citizens who want to enter the U.S. for a variety of purposes, but who might be barred at the moment due to the pandemic. One category of exemptions is reserved explicitly for academics. While in the past an academic might have needed a J-1 visa to enter the US, for this NIE option, a standard passport that has an ESTA visa capability will suffice.

Here are some quick questions/answers about this program:

1) What is the NIE program?

National Interest Exceptions for Certain Travelers from China, Iran, India, Brazil, South Africa, Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland (

2) What countries are eligible for this program?

China, Iran, Brazil, India, South Africa, and European countries in the Schengen Area

3) What about countries like Canada and Israel? Why aren’t they on the list?

Citizens from Canada, Israel, and a number of other countries can still enter the US with proof of a negative COVID test and currently without any vaccination requirements. While this might change in the future, there is no need for citizens from these countries to apply for an NIE.

4) How do I apply?

Like most US bureaucratic policies, there is no single central office handling these requests. Rather, you need to apply directly through the consulate in the country where you live. The good news is that each of these consulates has a DIRECT email for the NIE program. If you write this email, they will tell you how to apply. In most cases you just need to answer some questions about why you think you qualify and provide your passport info. If approved, the NIE will be automatically connected to your passport/ESTA visa. (See below for contact info for your country).

5) How long does this process take?

While it may take 2-4 weeks in some cases, a few people have told us it only takes a few days. We highly recommend you apply now.

6) Is there a cost to apply for an NIE?


7) Do I need to quarantine when I get to the US?

As of right now, no, but keep in mind, like many things connected to this pandemic, this might change. Right now, regardless of whether or not you have an NIE, should you wish to board an international flight in either direction, you would have to take a COVID test at your own expense to do so, showing you are negative.

8) Do I need to be vaccinated to enter the US?

As of right now, you do not. That said, the AJS will be asking that all AJS members be vaccinated and show proof of vaccination to attend the conference.

9) Can the AJS help me with this process?

For a number of reasons, the AJS can’t help you with this application process, but should you need any sort of official documentation from the consulate confirming your participation in our conference, please let us know and we would be happy to furnish something for you.

Please note, the AJS cannot make any guarantees as to your approval by this program. As each request is handled independently by each consulate, there is a chance that one country/consulate might approve the request, while another will not. We have no jurisdiction in this area. Travel policies continue to change regularly so it is always recommended to check with the embassy or consulate in your country about any travel restrictions before you leave. Also, the AJS strongly recommends that you get travel insurance that covers COVID-related issues such as quarantines, sickness, etc., even if you are approved, in the case of any last-minute issues.

List of NIE emails by country:

Germany: Website | Email

Poland: Website | Email

Switzerland: Website | Email

UK: Website | Email

Austria: Website

Denmark: Website | Email    

France: Website 

Luxembourg: Website 

Netherlands: Website |  Email

Norway: Website | Email

Sweden: Website | Email

South Africa: U.S. Mission South Africa - National Interest Exception Request Form (

If your country does not appear on this list, google “[your country]" + “national interest exception”