WASHINGTON – The Biden administration will lift travel restrictions at the borders with Canada and Mexico starting in November for fully vaccinated travelers, reopening the doors to the United States to tourists and separated family members who have been sealed outside of the country. countries during the pandemic.
Foreign travelers who provide proof of vaccination and seek to visit families or friends or shop in the United States will be allowed entry, senior administration officials said on Tuesday, weeks after the administration announced that it would soon lift a similar drastic restriction on foreigners traveling. to the country from abroad.
The lifting of the 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 say the United States will only welcome visitors who have been vaccinated. Unvaccinated travelers will continue to be banned from crossing borders with Mexico or Canada, officials said. Those who have never been banned from crossing land borders, including commercial drivers and students, will also need to show proof of vaccination when crossing from January – an effort to give them time to adjust to new rules, officials said.
Travel restrictions, implemented in March 2020, only applied to ‘non-essential travelers’ – relatives seeking to visit family members or buyers, who border communities relied on for their profits. Politicians representing those communities have pleaded with the Biden administration to lift travel restrictions in order to give ailing businesses a break.
New York Democrat Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said travel restrictions cost Erie County in her state at least $ 660 million a year.
“This reopening will be good news for countless businesses, healthcare providers, families and loved ones who depend on travel across the northern border,” Ms. Gillibrand said.
Authorities have not given an exact date for the lifting of travel restrictions.
Those entering the borders of Mexico or Canada will be questioned by customs and border protection officials about their immunization status before being allowed to cross. Officers will have the discretion to send travelers for secondary checks to have their documents verified, officials said.
However, President Biden will continue to use a separate border policy implemented at the start of the pandemic to turn back migrants seeking protection or economic opportunities – a policy that has been criticized by one. senior state department official and the administration’s own medical consultants.
The land border decision was taken in part to coincide with the reopening to foreign air travelers, officials said. While those traveling by air 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 vaccinated two weeks after receiving a second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson.
Those who received vaccines listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization, like AstraZeneca’s, would also be considered fully vaccinated – a standard a senior official said would likely be applied to those who did. cross the land border. Officials added that the CDC is still discussing the possibility of entering foreigners from Canada or Mexico with two different doses of the vaccine.
The decision to lift restrictions on air travel was celebrated by business leaders overseas and in the United States. Travel spending fell by nearly half to about $ 600 billion in 2020 from the previous year, according to the US Travel Association, a trade group.
“Border communities have been crippled by port closures,” Representative Veronica Escobar, a Democrat from Texas who represents a border district, said in an interview. “Not only did we suffer greater health damage in 2020, but the economic devastation was longer for us due to these port closures.”
Washington Democrat Senator Patty Murray said lifting the restrictions would benefit communities she represents like Point Roberts, which “depend almost entirely on cross-border travel to support their economies.”
But she warned that after “months of economic calamity” inflicted in large part by the border closure, more would be needed to ensure that the community could recover completely.
Nicolas fandos contributed reports.