Here is a summary of the current travel restrictions in place, and what changes or additions we might expect in the coming months. Businesses in the transportation, travel, and hospitality industries likely should plan that such restrictions will impact their operations throughout 2020 and beyond.
Currently, the United States Department of State has issued a global level 4 travel advisory – the highest level – recommending that U.S. citizens not travel abroad to any destination. Although the State Department typically assists U.S. citizens to return to the United States in an emergency, it warned in this advisory that “our ability to provide such assistance . . . may become more limited or even unavailable,” due to the reduced number of commercial flights available for repatriation. As the virus subsides in locations outside the United States, this global advisory likely will be replaced by individual country advisories recommending against travel to those countries, such as the level 4 travel advisory for China that the Department of State issued on February 2, 2020.
New entry barriers currently exist for U.S. citizens arriving to many foreign nations. Germany, for example, currently is denying entry to U.S. citizens who are not residents of the European Union or do not otherwise fall into one of a short list of narrow exceptions. China has suspended entry by all foreign nationals, even those holding visas or residence permits. In addition, all travelers entering China are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine. It is likely that entry by U.S. citizens to various foreign nations will be refused or conditioned until the virus is under control domestically. Further in the future, countries could require proof of vaccination against Covid-19 as a condition to entry, once a vaccine becomes available.
Upon return to the United States, a U.S.-citizen business traveler could face quarantine requirements here as well. The federal government has the authority to quarantine individuals arriving in the United States who are suffering from, or might have been exposed to, a communicable disease. Similarly, most states have statutes permitting local health authorities to quarantine individuals arriving in the state either directly from a foreign country or via a sister state. Currently, U.S. citizens returning to the United States from China, Iran, and most of Europe are being directed to one of thirteen airports for enhanced entry screening that includes a medical interview. Although asymptomatic travelers are now only required to undergo voluntary self-quarantine at home upon reaching their final destination, public health authorities previously have used stricter quarantine measures during epidemics that did not reach the United States, such as the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Once community spread of Covid-19 is eliminated within U.S. borders, business travelers could expect to face quarantine upon their return home if they travel to a location where community spread of the virus is still occurring.
It is unlikely that U.S. businesses will be entertaining any foreign guests from areas where Covid-19 has spread anytime soon. The federal government can deny entry to the United States to any non-citizen who has “a communicable disease of public health significance.” By presidential proclamation, entry to the United States will currently be denied to non-U.S. citizens who have traveled in China, Iran, and most of Europe at any point in the 14 days prior to their date of arrival to the United States. In addition, all non-essential travel across the borders to Canada and Mexico has been curtailed. Such restrictions likely will continue and expand to include any foreigner who either arrives from, or has traveled in, a country experiencing community spread of Covid-19; the CDC recently issued an interim final rule that permits the director of the CDC unilaterally to suspend travel from any foreign country designated by the director to avoid the spread of disease, even if the disease is already present in the United States.
Although the federal government has not issued any formal restrictions on domestic travel to date, statutory authority does exist for the federal government to apprehend and examine individuals who are “reasonably believed” to be infected with a communicable disease and who are either engaged in interstate travel or are the “probable source” of infection to others who will engage in interstate travel. As the situation with the virus evolves, it is possible that this authority could be used to restrict interstate travel to or from locations were community spread exists. There is a little good travel news, however, for those accustomed to taking to the skies for business. The long-delayed REAL ID enforcement deadline has been pushed back once again; while the TSA was set to begin requiring a REAL ID-compliant form of identification for air travel on October 1, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security recently announced that date has been pushed back to October 1, 2021.
The Coronavirus Task Force at Klehr Harrison stands ready to assist you in your business and legal needs. We will continue to provide additional information and guidance as the COVID-19 situation develops.
Author Paige Willan is a partner in the Litigation Department at Klehr Harrison.