European Travel Ban Imperils Foreign Workers Abroad

Little time remains to bring your employees home

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer March 12, 2020
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luggage at the airport

​Organizations have until midnight on Friday to identify foreign national employees in the 26 European countries listed for restricted travel by the Trump administration and plan for their return to the U.S., if possible.

President Donald Trump announced March 11 that nearly all travel from Europe's Schengen Area to the U.S. will be curtailed for 30 days as part of the administration's effort to contain the outbreak of the coronavirus wreaking havoc across the globe.

The Schengen Area comprises Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. The United Kingdom and Ireland were not initially included, but were added later.

The U.S. departments of State and Homeland Security are expected to issue more information about implementation of the travel ban, which may alter the options available to foreign national employees on assignment in Europe.

The White House proclamation prohibits any foreign nationals—not just Europeans—from entering the United States if they have been in the Schengen Area within 14 days before their attempted entry.

The ban does not apply to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, nor their spouses and children.

However, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), all people entering the U.S. from any country subject to the ban could face quarantine upon entry, said Rebecca Bernhard, a partner in the Minneapolis office of Dorsey & Whitney. "There are 20 active quarantine stations in the U.S., and the CBP and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)] have authority … to detain even U.S. citizens in such facilities."

Bernhard said she has been receiving calls from companies concerned about their employees on assignment in Europe and overseas in general. She said organizations with employees anywhere in the world need to start implementing strategies now and assume more bans are on the way.

"If this spreads further into India, this will have a significant impact on many U.S. companies with large numbers of Indian visa holders in the U.S. and with operations in India," she said.   

Tieranny L. Cutler, an attorney in the Atlanta office of Seyfarth Shaw, noted that this is not the first travel ban implemented as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

"Previously, in January, the Trump administration implemented a similar travel restriction for foreign nationals traveling from China, and an additional restriction in February, limiting travel from Iran. Both travel restrictions remain active," she said.

Bernhard said that employers with European national workers presently in the U.S. should also seek legal counsel. "While these individuals are not subject to this new ban, the measures in their own countries combined with the new ban here in the U.S. may create circumstances where someone who needs to go back to their home country in Europe to renew their passport or other key documents will not be able to re-enter upon renewal," she said.

President Trump's decision to restrict travel from Europe came hours after the World Health Organization (WHO) classified the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. The virus has spread extensively across the European continent, primarily in Italy, where more than 15,000 cases have been confirmed and over 1,000 people have died. The entire country is now in a travel quarantine.

The WHO has documented more than 125,000 cases of coronavirus worldwide, and 4,600 deaths. The CDC is reporting over 1,200 cases and 36 deaths in the U.S.

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