Question: I am a non-US citizen on an H1B visa trying to return from the EU (Germany) to the US to teach face-to-face classes this Fall. What are my options to get across the border as long as the COVID-19 suspension-of-entry restrictions are in place?

Some details: I'm a tenure-track faculty at a US university that is planning to fully reopen this Fall. Classes start mid-September. I am partially vaccinated and will be fully vaccinated by August 24 (second dose on August 10).

I'm aware of at least one option, viz., to spend 2 weeks in a country that (for whatever reasons) does not appear in the restrictions, such as Israel (which is supposedly reopening travel soon), Ukraine (which is completely open to fully vaccinated Europeans), or (seriously...) Russia. I am interested in something more direct. In particularly, I am wondering if anyone here has experience with national interest exceptions. I assume these require a letter from the department head or dean; if so, what language should be on that letter?

(I am trying to avoid working through the university HR infrastructure since long-time foreign trips are an administrative minefield; but if the advantages outweigh the risks, I will probably get some support from there as well.)

EDIT: For the sake of completeness, let me record how the problem has been resolved, whether or not my experience is generalizable. First, I asked my department head for a letter confirming that I am needed to teach three face-to-face courses (confirmed by links to relevant resources like the term schedule). With this letter as an attachment, I sent an email to FrankfurtVisaInquiries@state.gov (my US consulate; yours will probably be different; Germans should currently use Berlin according to the US Embassy site) asking for a NIE (National Interest Exception). (The email was titled "X99 - OTHER NIE - [my name]", and included my full name, date of birth, country of birth, gender, country of citizenship, passport number and US visum data, as suggested by the NIE navigator.) After three days, I received an email response telling me that my request was granted. There was no attachment to it; no paperwork to show on the border. (And none was necessary.)

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    Have you directly asked your university's international office? These questions are usually right up their alley, and their answer is likely to be more helpful than an answer on this site. Aug 1 at 13:28
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    You need the advice of experts in this area, not general academics. The changes in regulations are too new and your question is probably too specialized for this site. Get advice from people with authority to back it up or to actually make the decisions you require.
    – Buffy
    Aug 1 at 16:41
  • You might also need to consider asking the university to make things work in the case when you can't show up in a timely manner.
    – Buffy
    Aug 1 at 16:43
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    @Buffy: My main hope here is that someone has been there and seen it. I'm not sure who the "people with authority to back it up" would be, and I'm hesitant to contact anyone in HR. That said, I'll look into the international office and the lawyer who handled my H-1B. Aug 1 at 17:27
  • Not an expert, but looking at that list, it looks like you might qualify if you have a J1 Exchange visa, if your research touches on American national security or vital infrastructure, or if your university teaches students who are in the US military or government and counts as a "service provider" for them.
    – nick012000
    Aug 2 at 2:47