WASHINGTON – Starting November, the Biden government will lift travel restrictions on the borders with Canada and Mexico for fully vaccinated travelers and reopen the doors of the United States to tourists and separated family members banned from the country during the pandemic.
Foreign travelers who show proof of vaccination and want to visit family or friends or do some shopping in the United States are allowed to enter, senior administration officials said Tuesday, weeks after the government announced that it would soon lift a similar sweeping restriction on foreign nationals in the country.
The lifting of the bans will mark the reopening of the United States to travelers and tourism, and signal a new phase of recovery from the pandemic after the country closed its borders for nearly 19 months.
However, the new requirements also suggest that the US only welcomes vaccinated visitors. Unvaccinated travelers will continue to be banned from crossing the border into Mexico or Canada, officials said. Those who have never been banned from crossing land borders, including professional drivers and students, will also be required to show proof of vaccination upon crossing from January – to give them time to adapt to the new rules, officials said.
The travel restrictions introduced in March 2020 only applied to “minor travelers” – relatives wanting to visit family members or shoppers who border communities relied on for profit. Politicians representing such communities have asked the Biden government to lift travel restrictions to relieve suffering businesses.
New York Democrat Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said the travel restrictions have cost Erie County in her state at least $ 660 million annually.
“This reopening will be welcome news to countless businesses, medical providers, families and loved ones who rely on travel across the northern border,” said Gillibrand.
The officials did not give an exact date for the lifting of the travel restrictions.
People entering at the border with Mexico or Canada will be interviewed by customs and border guards about their vaccination status before they are allowed to cross the border. Officials have the discretion to send travelers to secondary screening to have their documents checked, officials said.
However, President Biden will continue to apply a separate border policy introduced at the start of the pandemic to ward off migrants seeking protection or economic opportunity – a policy criticized by a senior State Department official and the government’s own medical advisors.
The land border decision coincided in part with the reopening to foreign air travelers, officials said. While air travelers must present both proof of vaccination and a negative coronavirus test to enter the United States, there is no test requirement for those crossing the land border.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers people fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving a second dose of Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, or a single dose from Johnson & Johnson.
Those who have received emergency-approved vaccines from the World Health Organization, such as AstraZeneca’s, would also be considered fully vaccinated – a standard, a senior official said, would likely be applied to those crossing the land border. Officials added that the CDC is still debating whether foreigners could enter from Canada or Mexico with two doses of different vaccines.
The decision to lift restrictions on air travel was celebrated by business leaders overseas and in the United States. According to the US Travel Association, a trade group, travel spending declined by almost half in 2020 year-on-year to around $ 600 billion.
“The border communities are paralyzed because of the port closings,” said Veronica Escobar, a Texan Democrat who represents a border district, in an interview. “Not only did we suffer major damage to our health in 2020, but the economic damage also lasted longer due to these port closings.”
Washington Democrat Senator Patty Murray said the lifting of restrictions would benefit communities like Point Roberts, which “rely almost entirely on cross-border travel to sustain their economies.”
However, she warned that after “months of economic calamities” mainly caused by the border closure, more was needed to ensure the community could fully recover.
Nicholas Fandos Reporting contributed.