The Biden administration will lift travel restrictions at the borders with Canada and Mexico starting in November for fully vaccinated travelers, reopening the door of the United States to tourists and separated family members who had been sealed out of the country during the pandemic.
Those who provide proof of vaccination and are looking to visit families or friends or shop in the U.S. will be allowed to enter, senior administration officials said on Tuesday, just weeks after the administration said it would soon lift a similar sweeping restriction on foreigners looking to travel to the country from overseas.
The lifting of the two bans will effectively mark the reopening of the United States to travelers and tourism, signaling a new phase in the recovery from the pandemic after the country closed its borders for nearly 19 months. But the new requirements also indicate that the country will be a welcoming destination only for those who are vaccinated.
Unvaccinated travelers will continue to be banned from crossing the borders with Mexico or Canada, officials said. Those who were never banned from traveling across the land borders, including commercial drivers and students, will also need to show proof of vaccination when crossing starting in January — an effort to provide travelers like truckers time to adjust to the new rules, officials said.
The travel restrictions, implemented in March 2020 as the coronavirus spread throughout the United States, only applied to “nonessential travelers” — relatives looking to visit family or those looking to shop in the U.S., whom border communities relied on for profits. Politicians representing such communities have pleaded with the Biden administration for months to lift the travel restrictions to provide a reprieve for suffering businesses.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said the travel restrictions had cost Erie County in New York at least $660 million annually.
“Finally, the New York-Canadian border will be open again to vaccinated travelers from both nations,” Gillibrand said. “This reopening will be welcome news to countless businesses, medical providers, families and loved ones that depend on travel across the northern border.”
It is unclear when specifically in November the United States will lift the travel restrictions.
Those entering at the Mexico or Canada borders will be questioned by an officer from Customs and Border Protection about their vaccination status before crossing. The border officers will have the discretion to send travelers to secondary screenings to have travel and vaccination documents checked, officials said.
While the officials said it was now safe enough to welcome in vaccinated visitors, President Joe Biden will continue to use a separate border policy implemented early in the pandemic to rapidly turn away migrants seeking protection or economic opportunity — a policy that has been received criticism from a top State Department official and the administration’s own medical consultants.
The decision to reopen the land borders was in part made to ensure that the United States reopened to foreigners traveling by air and land at the same time, officials said. While those traveling by airplane will need to show both proof of vaccination and a negative coronavirus test to enter the United States, there will be no testing requirement for those crossing the land border.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers people fully inoculated two weeks after they receive the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s.
Those who have received vaccines listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization, such as AstraZeneca’s, would also be considered fully vaccinated — a standard one senior official said would probably be applied to those crossing the land border. Officials added that the CDC was still discussing whether foreigners crossing from Canada or Mexico with two doses from different vaccines could enter.
The decision to lift the restrictions on air travel had been celebrated by business leaders overseas and in the United States. Travel spending dropped nearly in half to about $600 billion in 2020 from a year earlier, according to the U.S. Travel Association, a trade group.
And businesses in places from Buffalo to San Diego to South Texas rely on tourists or those making a short visit to shop before returning home.
“Border communities have been hamstrung because of port closures,” Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, who represents a border district, said in an interview. “Not only did we suffer more significant health devastation in 2020, but the economic devastation has been longer for us because of those port closures.”
“This is great, and long overdue, news,” she added.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the lifting of the restrictions would benefit communities she represents like Point Roberts, a town detached from the rest of her state “almost entirely dependent on cross-border travel to sustain their economy.”
But she warned that after “months of economic calamity” inflicted largely by the border closure, more would be needed to ensure that the community could fully recover.
Source: The New York Times