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What UK Executives Should Know When Traveling to The US on a National Interest Exemption Certificate (Part 2)

Airport departures

A few weeks ago, we sat down (virtually) with Graham Tyler, Partner at Kingston Smith Barlevi and Chairman of Moore Kingston Smith, to get a sense of the process when a UK Executive wishes to enter the US. For that full interview, click here.

After being restricted from entering the US for more than a year due to the Coronavirus lockdowns, Graham has finally made it across the Atlantic and successfully entered the US via Los Angeles. This time, we were fortunate to sit down with Graham in person to get an update on the experience and what you should know before you travel on a National Interest Exemption.

To help provide additional guidance and context, we’ve also reconnected with Graham’s Immigration Attorney, Lauren De Bellis Aviv, immigration attorney and Managing Partner, Daniel Aharoni & Partners LLP in New York.

Graham TylerLauren De Bellis Aviv, immigration attorney

KSB: Welcome to the States, Graham! Let’s start from the top. After receiving your National Interest Exemption, what else did you have to do before arriving at the airport (Heathrow)?

Graham: First things first, I booked my round-trip flight to Los Angeles. The National Interest Exemption allows you to travel for 12 months from date of issue, so there wasn’t an immediate rush to travel on specific dates, however, it was in my interest to travel shortly thereafter – approximately two weeks from the time my application was approved. After booking my flights, travel accommodations, rescheduling of meetings and sorting out appropriate IT for seamless working in the US, I had to sort out my PCR test which is required for travel. As part of flying to the US from the UK, a negative result from a PCR or Polymerase Chain Reaction test (a COVID-19 test) within 72 hours of flying is required. It’s easy to find a PCR test center in the UK, and for a fee usually under £100, you can quickly get tested and walk away with a “Fit to Fly” exemption certificate. This certificate is needed to board your flight to the US.

KSB: So other than the PCR test and general travel coordination, there’s no additional paperwork that must be filed or completed?

Lauren: Correct. If you are granted a NIE then all you need is the negative PCR test in order to board a plane.

KSB: Graham, would you tell us what Executives can expect once they arrive to the airport in the UK?

Graham: I arrived at the airport having told myself that I’d likely need to be a bit more patient than usual and as expected, that mindset was required. Immediately upon arriving at London Heathrow at 9am for an 11:40am flight, I was dealt the news that my flight had been cancelled. After the initial shock, and the back and forth of trying to get me on the next available flight that would honor my business class ticket (which did require my travel agent), I was finally rescheduled on a 4pm flight. I can’t stress enough how often it seems this is happening – flights are being consolidated and the appropriate notifications of cancelling and rescheduling flights are not making it to customers. My advice to you is to be sure to check on the status of your flight reservation within the days leading up to your departure.

KSB: After learning your flight had been cancelled and thankfully rebooked same day, what was the rest of the airport experience like?

Graham: I have Global Entry and that process was unchanged, but business as usual stopped there. The BA Lounge has taken precautions and done away with the buffet and is now order only. Boarding now requires passengers to produce their respective documentation that allows them entry into the destination country. For the US, all passengers boarding the flight are made to provide their Passport, National Interest Exemption Certificate (or other documentation verifying your approved entry), and your Fit To Fly Certificate (the PCR Test certificate). Additionally, passengers are required to sign a US Government Form that confirms you are not experiencing symptoms and have not knowingly been exposed to the virus. This adds quite a bit of time to boarding as the forms are made to be signed as you enter the plane.

KSB: Anything about the actual flight that would be helpful for executives to know?

Graham: You are required to wear a mask over your nose and mouth for the duration of the flight but removing it to eat and drink was allowed (meals were still provided as usual). It was interesting to see that it was a full flight, but that makes sense due to their consolidation strategies. Other than masks, the only real difference was that exiting the plane was done by rows. All passengers are asked to remain seated until their row is called to grab overhead luggage and exit.

KSB: So, the final hurdle – what was the experience like at US Customs?

Graham: I must say, I wouldn’t use my experience as the standard as it was impossibly easy and I think your experience at customs is largely dependent on the agent you’re speaking to, but it was an actual breeze. We landed around 8pm and the airport was empty. I’ve never seen a customs line so short. Once at the actual window, the agent asked me the usual questions: “How long will you be here?” (two weeks) “What’s your purpose for the visit?” (business) and that was it! I was prepared with all my paperwork and even the US Government Form that we were instructed would be checked before entry, and it wasn’t. I strongly recommend that you have all of those documents prepared and available as you may not have the same experience as I did.

KSB: Now that you’re in the US, were there any requirements for you once you arrived? Quarantine? PCR tests?

Graham: There weren’t any requirements upon arrival on this end, but I will need to repeat the PCR test here in Los Angeles before I leave and again upon my return to London. It’s smart to triple check this however as things often change quickly and you want to make sure you’re prepared.

KSB: After having gone through the process and successfully making it into the US, what advice do you have for other executives?

Graham: Have patience – the process is new, it takes longer, you just have to roll with it. Check on your flight status leading up to your departure day to make sure it hasn’t secretly been cancelled and arrive a little earlier than you would normally. There are unexpected forms to fill out and it’s just a bit less predictable than usual. While I was lucky and didn’t have to wait in massive lines, I have heard horror stories about Heathrow. I’ve also heard about companies that act as airport chauffeurs, who for a fee, can help you navigate the airport and jump you to the front of cues. Might be worth a quick search to see if it’s available and right for you and your travels. There is also an app, called the VeriFly app, that I’ve heard also allows you to fill out some of the forms in advance which can help you breeze through parts of the process.

KSB: Given the rapidly changing COVID infection rates, have you seen any changes in the approval of National Interest Exemptions? Should executives interested in traveling to the US apply quickly?

Lauren: No, I don’t think this means that all executives should apply quickly. Quite the opposite. NIEs have been a coin toss since the beginning, with ESTA/visa waiver entries being the hardest NIEs to get. Within the past couple of weeks, it seems like the Delta variant has made Embassies more hesitant again. I think your visa type and the reasons for traveling to the US must be properly vetted to decide whether you apply at all in this climate and risk being denied and losing time while waiting for that denial. If you already have a visa stamp or are traveling on ESTA then the best approach might be circumventing the ban by staying outside of a banned country for 14 days before attempting entry to the US. You must speak to counsel to develop the best strategy for you and weigh the pros and cons of applying for a NIE.

KSB: Graham, now that you have the exemption for 12 months, do you see yourself coming back to the US multiple times over the next several months?

Graham: Absolutely. I’ve been able to have several face-to-face meetings that have been on hold for nearly a year and there’s just no substitute for that. I’ve been able to handle critical business issues which really demand humans around a table and see the need continuing for me to travel back for these necessary business needs in the months ahead.

Graham Tyler and Gareth Jones in KSB office
Gareth Jones, Principal at KSB and Graham Tyler in the KSB offices. – Brentwood, CA

KSB: Lauren, given that Graham has exemption for a year – is there anything that could revoke or pause his ability to enter the US?

Lauren: Not at this moment; however, we are still living through a pandemic and things can change at any time – for better or worse. In Graham’s words, the best we can all do is be prepared to “roll with it.”

For more details on travel exemptions, visit the U.S. Embassy & Consulates in the United Kingdom website here.

Airport flight information - travel update

Travel Update

We are happy to report that Graham Tyler has successfully made it back to the UK since our last interview. As there were a few surprises along the way, we wanted to provide an accurate update on the US departure and UK entry experience.

KSB: Graham, can you share a little about your experience at LAX for your departure back to the UK? Was there anything unexpected?

Graham: While I previously mentioned the need for a negative PCR test result within 72 hours of departure, what I wasn’t aware of is that you must also complete a Public Health Passenger Location Form, as well as purchase and have a proof of a scheduled PCR test for when you land in the UK. I hadn’t picked this up, so spent about 40 minutes sorting this out at the airport. If you can sort this out ahead of time, I strongly recommend it so you can have a smooth and easy departure.

KSB: After sorting out these final details, was everything with your arrival back to the UK business as usual?

Graham: Shockingly yes. Once I landed in Heathrow, I walked straight in, no delays. In the end, the biggest challenge was getting the NIE. The actual travel was surprisingly easy as long as you’re prepared to jump over a few relatively low hurdles.