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A (French citizen) friend who lives in the US as an H1-B worker recently went on a trip to Croatia from the US. He did not visit any other countries, and both directions of his flight were nonstop between the US and Croatia. While there, he applied for a National Interest Exception from the US Embassy in France, through email, to prepare for a possible future trip to France.

He attempted to return to the US from Dubrovnik, but was not let onto the plane. Probably after a computer warning, the gate attendant called CBP, who confirmed he was not allowed to board the flight.

His H1-B visa stamp is still valid for a few months, his passport for a few years, and he's still employed.

Since he did not enter any Schengen (or other restricted) countries on this trip, I don't think the status of his NIE request should impact his ability to reenter the US. Are there any policies to that effect? Is it possible the airline made a mistake or miscommunicated with CBP?

Apologies for the second hand story, I'm considering doing something similar and am curious if there are any rules I've missed.

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    What was his flight routing in BOTH directions? If he was connecting somewhere in the Schengen area/UK/Ireland then he would not be allowed to travel to the US after making that stopover, and would have been correctly denied boarding at DBV.
    – Doc
    Aug 10 at 5:24
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    I would guess the embassy's link with CBP is just not that sophisticated, especially since NIEs are a temporary emergency measure. Once you request an NIE to enter the US, their system probably assumes you need the NIE to enter the US. Does the embassy even know you have two separate trips?
    – krubo
    Aug 10 at 5:32
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    Right, but it was direct flights from and to Newark
    – zale
    Aug 10 at 5:35
  • @krubo yes, that sounds possible! But it's a little concerning that it isn't stated anywhere...
    – zale
    Aug 10 at 14:24
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Tentative answer: it seems like this was a mistake on the part of the airline or CBP, as my friend was able to board the same flight the next day and was admitted into the US.

Edit 2021-08-25: This post from QZ suggests this is not an isolated case, but does not explain the cause:

Despite holding valid visas and proof of being out of a restricted area for more than 14 days, some travelers are being denied boarding at Dubrovnik’s airport. They are receiving little explanation as to why, other than it is the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that is not granting them permission to travel to the US.

What is happening appears to be nothing more than a glitch, and travelers who have been denied visa clearance were eventually allowed on later flights, but not without inconveniences that include risking delayed returns to work, or family separation.

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  • Accepting this for now, but if somebody has a more definitive or sourced answer one way or another, I'll replace the accept!
    – zale
    Aug 13 at 16:25

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