The New Europe Travel and Foreign National Restrictions Explained

Due to concerns over the continued global spread of COVID-19, a.k.a. coronavirus, the US government is taking new measures to prevent people from bringing more cases into the country – specifically from most countries in Europe. During a national address from the Oval Office, President Donald Trump announced a new restrictions on travel from Europe to the US, minus the United Kingdom. However, the Department of Homeland Security issued very different-sounding travel restrictions for foreign nationals from Schengen Zone countries with no expiration date. Here are the (confusing) details explained.

Full DHS Statement on Europe Travel Restrictions

Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad F. Wolf’s  Statement on Presidential Proclamation To Protect the Homeland from Travel-Related Coronavirus Spread

(WASHINGTON) Today President Donald J. Trump signed a Presidential Proclamation, which suspends the entry of most foreign nationals who have been in certain European countries at any point during the 14 days prior to their scheduled arrival to the United States. These countries, known as the Schengen Area, include: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. This does not apply to legal permanent residents, (generally) immediate family members of U.S. citizens, and other individuals who are identified in the proclamation.   

Statement from DHS Acting Secretary Chad F. Wolf: 

“Protecting the American people from threats to their safety is the most important job of the President of the United States. The actions President Trump is taking to deny entry to foreign nationals who have been in affected areas will keep Americans safe and save American lives. I applaud the president for making this tough but necessary decision. While these new travel restrictions will be disruptive to some travelers, this decisive action is needed to protect the American public from further exposure to the potentially deadly coronavirus.

“In January and February, the Administration issued similar travel restrictions on individuals who had been in China and Iran. That action proved to be effective in slowing the spread of the virus to the U.S., while public health officials prepared. In the next 48 hours, in the interest of public health, I intend to issue a supplemental Notice of Arrivals Restriction requiring U.S. passengers that have been in the Schengen Area to travel through select airports where the U.S. Government has implemented enhanced screening procedures.”

What President Trump’s Address Stated

During his address from the Oval Office, Trump made the following statements regarding travel from Europe to the United States:

To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days. The new rules will go into effect Friday at midnight. These restrictions will be adjusted subject to conditions on the ground. There will be exemptions for Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings and these prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval.

Anything coming from Europe to the United States is what we are discussing. These restrictions will also not apply to the United Kingdom. At the same time, we’re monitoring the situation in China and South Korea, and as their situation improves, we will re-evaluate the restrictions and warnings that are currently in place for a possible early opening. 

Contradictions Between the Address and DHS Statement

If you haven’t already noticed, there are significant differences between the travel policy outlined in the DHS press release and what President Trump said in his address. CNN pointed these out:

Those exemptions [for US citizens] are far more extensive than the President made them out to be. They apply to all US legal permanent residents, citizens and some of their family members, according to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security. The travel restrictions Trump is enacting are in fact far more similar to those enacted on China. The ban also does not apply to all of Europe but to nations in the Schengen zone.

Americans and US permanent residents who are in Europe will still be allowed to fly to Europe and be allowed back into the United States during this 30-day period. They will simply be screened upon entry to the United States and face quarantine or restrictions on their movement in the US for 14 days. However, it is not clear whether airlines will still fly the routes if passenger demand from European nationals dries up because of the ban. 

President Trump also had to clarify an erroneous statement he made about prohibitions on cargo shipments in a Tweet. In his speech he said, “There will be exemptions for Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings and these prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval.” Then he tweeted:

Details from DHS Statement Not in Trump’s Address

President Trump made no mention of the travel restriction on foreign nationals who have visited or come from Schengen Area countries in the 14 days before arriving in the United States. There is also no mention of a 30-day time limit on these restrictions in the DHS statement. This essentially places an indeterminate hold on European tourism to the US. To provide context, in 2018, there were roughly 15 million arrivals to the US from Europe who spent over $212 million during their visits.

The President’s address also didn’t mention that returning US travelers would be required to fly into a limited number of US airports to undergo enhanced screening. It’s assumed that DHS will announce where these select airports are very soon, considering that the new policy will go into effect at 11:59PM on March 13.

What This Means for Travel to the United States

Here are the fundamental points you need to gleaned from all of this confusing information based on the facts I have at the current time (always subject to change):

  • If you are a US citizen, legal permanent resident, or family member of either, you can travel to and from Europe.
  • If/when you return to the US from Europe (as a citizen or resident), you will only be allowed to fly through certain airports designated for enhanced screening.
  • Any and all foreign nationals that live in or have visited one of the Schengen Area countries listed above within 14 days of planned arrival in the US will not be admitted.

What Needs More Clarification

  • How I interpret the DHS statement, a French citizen can’t fly direct from Paris to New York. However, he/she can fly to Mexico City, hang out for 15 days, then fly through one of the designated screening airports.
  • No one seems to know why the UK is excluded, other than the fact they’re not in the Schengen Area. As of March 11, the UK has 460 positive coronavirus cases.
  • I don’t know (yet) how Customs and Border Protection would know that someone arriving from a UK airport like Heathrow or Gatwick wasn’t connecting from a listed country.
  • I don’t know if immigration agents in Schengen countries will be responsible from preventing foreign nationals from boarding flights to the US, or if they will be refused admission at US airports (which would invalidate the point of the restriction). Most European countries affected by these restrictions were not told about them until after the announcement was made, Most likely because the US State Department didn’t know the details, either.
  • I’m assuming that foreign nationals on transatlantic cruises from Europe to the US would not be admitted, as the crossing from the last European port of call to the US is less than 14 days.

Please stay tuned to this post or reliable news stories on this issue, as things can change from day to day.

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