On November 24, 2021, officials in South Africa informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of the emergence of new Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Two days later, on November 26, 2021, the WHO announced officially that the Omicron variant is a variant of concern, and that the number of cases attributed to this variant are increasing in almost all provinces of the Republic of South Africa. Based on the detection of Omicron cases in South Africa and other countries in the region, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, concluded that further measures are required to protect the public health. That lead to President Biden signing a proclamation on the same day, November 26th, that bans the entry of most noncitizens to the United States who have been physically present in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe during the 14-day (2-week) period before their attempted entry. The list of countries either subject to the travel ban were chosen because they either have reported cases of Omicron or have extensive cross-border passenger traffic and proximity to South Africa.
The travel ban for the eight African countries took effect on Monday, November 29th. As expected, U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents are not subject to the restrictions, as are foreign diplomats traveling to the United States on A or G visas. Other exemptions apply to and certain immediate family members of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. These include spouses, children under the age of 21, parents whose children are unmarried and under the age of 21, and siblings of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, where both non-US sibling and the U.S. citizen or permanent resident are unmarried and under the age of 21. In addition to immediate family members, there is an exception for air and sea crew traveling to the United States on C, D, or C1/D visas. For the full list of exceptions, please refer to the proclamation.
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