The Belgian society is aware of the complicated situation created by a set of executive orders put in place since March 2020. The orders can be found on the White House website and the restrictions are mainly targeting aliens with J and H visas.
Therefore the board of the Harvard-MIT Belgian society is gathering specific questions and enquiries on travel and immigration restrictions that members and relatives might have, the link to add to this questionnaire can be found below.
Meanwhile, we are in the touch with the Belgian Consul General in New York Mr. Frank Geerkens to obtain a clear overview and answers concerning the current immigration and travel restrictions (see upcoming FAQ below). If there is great interest, we also plan to set up an online meeting with an Q&A session in collaboration with our Belgian Consul General to clarify the new restrictions of the last 4 months impacting Belgians.
We hope, with the help of the consulate, to be able to provide you with answers ASAP on this page.
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- Answers to the questions submitted to the Belgian Embassy
- General FAQ
- Personal stories of Belgian who managed (or not) to travel between Belgium and the US during the pandemic
Answers to the questions submitted to the Belgian Embassy
I’m in the process of renewing my current H1B visa (current expiration date is 6/30/20). I’m currently in the US working as a radiologist and I will start working July first at the department of thoracic radiology of Brigam and Women’s (COVID19). I need to travel for work in September to Belgium. Assuming my visa gets renewed by then, will I be able to get a new stamp at the US Embassy in Brussels and will I be able to return to the US?
Currently the US Embassy in Brussels does not perform any routine visa processing as explained on their website: https://be.usembassy.gov/information-about-covid-19-and-travel-to-the-us/. We suggest contacting them directly if exceptions may apply to obtain stamps, but this does not appear to be the case.
Furthermore, travel is prohibited for all persons who have been physically present in Belgium during the 14 days prior to entering the United States. This restriction does not apply to US citizens and Permanent Resident Card holders, and a few other exceptions as deascribed in Presidential Proclamation 9993 (not including H1B visa holders).
How do I re-acquire health insurance in Belgium prior to traveling to Belgium, without having domicile in Belgium, in times of coronavirus?
Generally residence must be established to obtain long term health insurance in Belgium. Depending on the specifics of the situation ( like for instance how long did you leave Belgium and I long since you have last contributed to Social security system ). It may therefore be a better option to maintain (and if necessary, extend) your current health insurance, or obtain temporary insurance, that would cover benefits in Belgium until registering.
In the absence of any Belgian bank accounts, how can I best open a bank account, as well as rental bank account for renting a place in Belgium prior to traveling?
It appears that many of the main banks in Belgium offer the possibility to open bank accounts online. For specifics we have to advise to contact the financial institutions directly for further guidance. A useful link to consult / direct your questions is the website of the Belgian Federation of Banks https://www.febelfin.be/.
What are most efficient companies to ship all your belongings from the us to belgium?
As an Embassy we cannot recommend any particular companies but many US and Belgian companies are offering this service: for example Putters.be; JK Moving; Gosselin.
What we do recommend though is that the moving company you are choosing be affiliated to FIDI https://www.fidi.org/ (global alliance of professional international moving and relocation companies, specialized in moving household goods and personal effects from one country to another, from one continent to another, according to the best quality standards).
What are the current travel rules I need to be aware of when traveling to Belgium?
At the start of the lockdown, Belgium closed its borders for all non-essential travel. Belgians are allowed to travel to Belgium, and the same applies to non-Belgian citizens who reside in Belgium with a valid residence permit. From 15 June, Belgium has opened its borders for travel within the European Union, including the United Kingdom and the four other Schengen countries (Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway) for non-essential travel. Since July 1st, family members* of EU citizens and holders of residence permits to Belgium are also allowed to travel for non-essential reasons from outside of the EU.
Non-Belgians who are not in possession of a residence permit can only travel to Belgium from outside the EU with an essential function or need, including:
Healthcare professionals, Frontier workers, Seasonal workers in agriculture, Transport personnel; Diplomats, staff of international organisations, military personnel and humanitarian aid workers and civil protection personnel in the exercise of their functions, Passengers travelling for imperative family reasons, Seafarers, Persons in need of international protection or for other humanitarian reasons, Third-country nationals travelling for the purpose of study, Highly qualified third-country workers (single permit holders).
When entering Belgium from outside the EU, persons must remain in self-isolation at home for 14 days; and persons are prohibited from working outdoors for 14 days (even if they are employed in an essential sector), although teleworking is still permitted.
Are we allowed to travel back to the US after international travel, with a valid visa, or can they refuse us entry into the country? If they can refuse entry, what about travel for urgent reasons (e.g., sickness of family member)?
As detailed in the applicable presidential-proclamation, under the current US travel restrictions only the following travelers can enter the United States if they have been present in Belgium/the EU during the last 14 days:
(i) any lawful permanent resident of the United States;
(ii) any alien who is the spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident;
(iii) any alien who is the parent or legal guardian of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, provided that the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident is unmarried and under the age of 21;
(iv) any alien who is the sibling of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, provided that both are unmarried and under the age of 21;
(v) any alien who is the child, foster child, or ward of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, or who is a prospective adoptee seeking to enter the United States pursuant to the IR-4 or IH-4 visa classifications;
(vi) any alien traveling at the invitation of the United States Government for a purpose related to containment or mitigation of the virus;
(vii) any alien traveling as a nonimmigrant pursuant to a C-1, D, or C-1/D nonimmigrant visa as a crewmember or any alien otherwise traveling to the United States as air or sea crew;
(viii) any alien
(A) seeking entry into or transiting the United States pursuant to one of the following visas: A-1, A-2, C-2, C-3 (as a foreign government official or immediate family member of an official), E-1 (as an employee of TECRO or TECO or the employee’s immediate family members), G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1 through NATO-4, or NATO-6 (or seeking to enter as a nonimmigrant in one of those NATO categories); or
(B) whose travel falls within the scope of section 11 of the United Nations Headquarters Agreement;
The process on how to request travel as an exception can be found on the website of the US Embassy in Brussels here: Information About COVID-19 and Travel to the United States.
I have to go back to Belgium to take care of my sick family members. Will I be able to get back to the US with my J1 visa?
No, J-1 holders are not exempt from the travel restrictions that prevent travelers who have been present in Belgium during the last 14 days to enter the US. For information on exemption to this rule, please contact the US Embassy in Brussels or USCIS https://www.uscis.gov/contactcenter.
Can I travel to Europe in early October (if travel restrictions permit) and be re-admitted to the US, with a Visa expiring in the end of November?
Currently, unless a traveler falls under one of the exceptions as mentioned in the applicable presidential-proclamation, it is not possible to re-enter the US from Belgium. We advise to contact CBP for more detailed information on re-entering the US on a visa with less than two months validity. Advice can also be asked to an immigration lawyer.
With a valid VISA, can I travel outside of us for business/tourism? Are people with a valid visa being barred from entering the US?
It is currently possible to travel outside the United States on a valid visa and return as long as you have not been present in one of the following countries during the last 14 days:
- European Schengen area (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, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City)
- United Kingdom(England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland)
- Republic of Ireland
Unless a traveler falls under one of the exceptions as mentioned in the applicable presidential-proclamation, it is not possible to re-enter the US from one of the countries mentioned above, even with a valid visa.
These rules may change any time.
Will a valid Visa stamp allow me to travel back to the USA from Belgium once the covid-related travel restrictions are lifted?
It is impossible to answer this question . We suggest contacting USCIS or the US Embassy in Brussels for verification.
When can Europeans travel back to the US?
There is no indication as to when travel restrictions from Europe into the United States will be lifted. “This proclamation shall remain in effect until terminated by the President”.
If my visa expires, but I have a valid DS form, can I travel to Canada?
Since this is question is very specific to US immigration law, we suggest contacting the CBP to an answer to this question.
What exactly does “essential travel” means for Belgians trying to go back to Belgium or the EU? Can we (a) go back for a holiday/a couple weeks(b) go back permanently. How is this enforced? What documentation is needed ? Do we have to prove this somehow?
The general principle is that any person with Belgian nationality (with or without their main residence in Belgium), long-term residents in Belgium and persons with legal residence in Belgium, may return to Belgium subject to two conditions. The two conditions when traveling from outside the EU are that:
– The person must remain in self-isolation at home for 14 days; and
– The person is prohibited from working outdoors for 14 days (even if they are employed in an essential sector), although teleworking is still permitted.
The bigger issue is for travelers to return to the US if they do not fall under one of the exemptions.
What about non EU-citizen spouses/dependents? Are Belgian (or other EU countries) consulates processing long term D visas for instance for “regroupement familial”? Is that considered “essential travel”? Is that considered “urgent” for the consulates (since routine visa service seems suspended)?
Since July 1st, family members* are exempt from the travel restrictions that apply to countries from outside of the EU. When traveling, the family members must be able to demonstrate their relationship to the EU family member with official documentation (e.g. marriage and/or birth certificates).
The Belgian consular missions are resuming limited visa processing starting Monday July 6th (by mail only). This includes visa applications for the purpose of family reunification that can be submitted to the Belgian consular mission with jurisdiction over the state where you reside. Although family reunification visas can be submitted and will be checked for completion by Monday July 6th, the consular missions are still awaiting permission to issue/print this type of visa.
How do I travel to Belgium with pets? Are there vaccines needed for pet rabbits? Are there other rules for pet rabbits? what are best pet travel agencies?
Please find the detailed information regarding travel to Belgium with pets on our following web page: https://unitedstates.diplomatie.belgium.be/en/travel-to-belgium/traveling-with-pets.
In the last few months, the U.S. government has issued several travel restrictions and executive orders, which have impacted our visa holders. The following are frequently asked questions about all the recent travel restrictions. The answers provided are focused on J and H visa holders. It is critical that you consider BOTH types of restrictions on visa holders:
- The restrictions from the June 22, 2020, proclamation on certain H and J visa holders AND
- The travel bans due to COVID-19 by country (China, Iran, and, Brazil and the Schengen region (including Ireland and the United Kingdom)) For many of our visa holders, the June 22, 2020 proclamation will not impact their visa request. The travel bans are the primary reason many of our visa holders have not entered the U.S. Finally, it is important to keep in mind, many consulates are closed for routine services or have limited appointments.
How long are the restrictions listed in the June 22, 2020 proclamation expected to last?
The proclamation will last through December 31, 2020 and may be extended beyond that date. It includes entry bans (outlined below) and extended a prior order that banned the U.S. Department of State from issuing new immigrant visas (green cards). Possible litigation is in the works, but any results will be slow moving.
Who IS affected by the June 22 proclamation?
Individuals who are outside of the U.S. who must apply for a visa stamp in the following categories: H-1B and specific categories of J-1 (see question 4).
Dependent family members who are also outside of the US in the H-4 and J-2 (again, specific categories) are also affected. These individuals may not be able to secure visa appointments at U.S. consulates as they are temporarily prohibited from admission to the United States.
Who is NOT affected by the June 22 proclamation?
- Visa holders in the U.S. who are not travelling internationally;
- Visa holders in the U.S. who have the following valid visa stamps in their passports as of June 23, 2020: H-1B, H-2B, H-4, J-1, J-2;
- Any foreign national who already has a valid, unexpired H-1B, H-2B, H-4, J-1, J-2 visa stamp as of June 23,2020.
- Foreign nationals holding TN, E-3, or O-1 visas (please note those without visa stamps may have difficulty scheduling visa appointments);
- Individuals who have a valid Advance Parole travel document;
- Lawful Permanent Residents (Green Card holders);
- Individuals holding other official travel documents other than a visa (transportation letter or boarding foil); and,
- Spouse or child of a U.S. Citizen.
I will be applying for a J-1 visa. How does the June 22 proclamation affect me?
The entry ban does not affect all J-1 nonimmigrants. The PIPS sponsored J-1 visa categories of Research Scholar, Short-Term Scholar, and Specialist categories are NOT subject to the travel ban. Only foreign nationals in J-1 status who are participating in an intern, trainee, teacher, camp counselor, au pair, or summer work travel program (and their dependents) will be subject to the entry ban. Note that COVID travel restrictions (as of June: China, Iran, Brazil, Europe) can impact your ability to enter the U.S., even if you are issued a J-1 visa.
Are there exemptions to bans imposed by the June 22 proclamation?
Exemptions may be available for foreign nationals. The following are the most relevant exceptions:
- Individuals involved with the provision of medical care related to COVID-19 for individuals who are currently hospitalized;
- Individuals involved in medical research at U.S. facilities to help the U.S. combat COVID-19; and,
- Individuals deemed necessary to facilitate the immediate and continued economic recovery of the U.S.
Are there exemptions for country specific COVID travel restrictions?
Exemptions may be available for foreign nationals. The following are the most relevant exceptions:
- Individuals involved with the provision of medical care related to COVID-19 for individuals who are currently hospitalized; or
- Individuals involved in medical research at U.S. facilities to help the U.S. combat COVID-19.
Can my hospital file a petition to change my status to H-1B or extend my H-1B status?
Yes. The entry ban does not affect an employer’s ability to file petitions including change of employer, change of status, amendment, and extension petitions for those in the U.S.
If I have a valid H-1B visa stamp in my passport – may I continue to travel internationally?
Visa holders who are in possession of valid, unexpired H-1B visa stamps as of June 23, 2020 may continue to travel internationally – HOWEVER, it is critical that you confirm that COVID travel restrictions do not prevent your return to the U.S. It is advised not to travel at all as new restrictions may be implemented with little notice.
Can I apply for my visa stamp inside the U.S.?
No. It is not possible to obtain a visa in the United States; only U.S. consulates and embassies abroad issue visa stamps.
I am a Canadian in H-1B visa status. Will I be allowed to re-enter the U.S. if I travel internationally?
As Canadians citizens are visa exempt, they are not required to obtain a visa stamp at a U.S. embassy or consulate for admission to the U.S. However, the government has not issued a definitive statement so caution is still advised. You should continue to present your approval documentation and recent pay statements to document employment when you re-enter the U.S. following international travel. Again, we do not advise international travel to even Canada.
I hold H-1B status and I am not subject to the entry ban. However, I am unclear about my dependents. How do I know whether the entry ban affects them?
Spouses and children who already hold valid H-4 visa stamps are not affected by the entry ban. They may continue to travel internationally during the entry ban period, though like any other visa holder will be subject to restrictions from COVID travel ban countries and regions. Spouses and children who are outside the U.S. as of June 24, 2020 and do not yet have valid H-4 visa stamps in their passports will be subject to the entry ban.
My dependents are outside the U.S. and do not hold H-4 or J-2 visas. Can they enter the U.S. as visitors using a B-2 visa stamp or visa waiver (ESTA)?
Dependents holding valid B-2 visas as well as those from visa waiver countries with approved ESTA registrations should be able to enter the U.S. during the entry ban period for brief visits, consistent with B-2 visa requirements or ESTA program restrictions if they are not entering from a country impacted by COVID travel restrictions.
I currently hold an F-1 student visa and I am working pursuant to Optional Practical Training (OPT). May I continue to work on OPT (or STEM OPT) and travel internationally usin F-1 visa?
Individuals holding F-1 visas should check with their sponsoring university’s international office for travel guidance. The entry ban does not directly affect an F-1 student’s ability to complete their academic program, or work in the U.S. pursuant to OPT or STEM OPT.
I am applying for a green card. How will this affect me?
Please discuss with your immigration attorney especially if you are planning to use advance parole.
When will the country specific COVID travel restrictions be lifted?
These restrictions are in place indefinitely and we do not know when they will be lifted. Please refer to our web site for updates.
Some Belgian tell us how they managed (or not) to travel between Belgium and the US during the pandemic. This section will be updated regularly; don’t hesitate to contact us to share your experience!
Belgium → USA – June 2020
“During my one-year research fellowship in Boston (J-1 visa with approved program), I was visiting family in Belgium when the lockdown set in. I stayed there working from home as the lab in Boston closed. When the lockdown relaxed and given the travel restrictions to the US, I contacted the US Embassy in Belgium (on May 28th) as one of the travel restriction exceptions was medical professionals with ongoing visa at that time. My lab head wrote a recommendation letter and I had to write a quarantine statement (two weeks upon arrival in the US). These data were sent to a department in Washington by the US Embassy in Belgium. After one week, they replied that I was eligible to travel, and after sending my travel itinerary, I received a travel letter which enabled me to go back to the US (on June 17th).”