October 14, 2021
Essential travelers have until January 2022 before the vaccine requirement impacts them, a provision designed to give truck drivers time to get vaccinated
US Customs officers speak with the occupants of a car at the US/Canada border in Lansdowne, Ontario, on March 22, 2020. PHOTO BY LARS HAGBERG/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
By National Post
WASHINGTON – The United States will lift restrictions at its land borders with Canada and Mexico for fully vaccinated foreign nationals in early November, allowing for the resumption of non-essential travel such as tourism.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement the administration next month “will begin allowing travelers from Mexico and Canada who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to enter the United States for non-essential purposes, including to visit friends and family or for tourism, via land and ferry border crossings.”
The new rules are similar but not identical to planned requirements announced last month for international air travelers, U.S. officials said in a call earlier with reporters.
The changes are expected to invigorate international travel before the holiday season, and Tuesday’s announcement addresses complaints by those living in border communities that the U.S. was imposing different rules for those traveling by air than for those driving to see friends and family.
“This reopening will be welcome news to countless businesses, medical providers, families, and loved ones that depend on travel across the northern border,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, said in a statement.
Sarnia, Ont., Mayor Mike Bradley said Wednesday that he believes Canadians will be cautious about driving south for day trips given that some parts of the U.S. have looser public health measures and higher COVID-19 case counts.
“I do not see a lot of people wanting to go over on day tripping for some time to come because of what’s happening in places like Michigan and elsewhere, where there are no restrictions on masking and gathering and things like that,” Bradley said.
Unvaccinated visitors will still be barred from entering the United States from Canada or Mexico at land borders.
In addition to not yet setting a firm date in November for non-essential travel to resume, officials have not yet decided how they will handle instances of travelers from Mexico and Canada who have vaccine doses from two different manufacturers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has yet to come to a final determination on how to handle travelers who received the AstraZeneca PLC vaccine, which is not yet approved in the U.S. but was distributed in both Mexico and Canada.
The U.S. expects to announce those decisions soon, the officials said. But those crossing the border by land won’t be required to produce a negative coronavirus test as air travelers must. And while border agents will ask all travelers to attest to their vaccine status, travelers driving across the border may only be required to produce documentation if they are directed to secondary inspection.
The vaccine requirement will also not immediately affect those already permitted to cross land borders for essential travel, including medical treatment, traveling to work or school, or trade. Those individuals will have until January 2022 before the vaccine requirement impacts them – a provision designed to allow truck drivers and other essential workers time to get vaccinated, the U.S. officials said.
“This phased approach will provide ample time for essential travelers such as truckers and others to get vaccinated, enabling a smooth transition to this new system,” a senior White House official said.
Homeland Security said the administration was creating “consistent, stringent protocols for all foreign nationals traveling to the United States – whether by air, land, or ferry.”
Canada on Aug. 9 began allowing fully vaccinated U.S. visitors for non-essential travel.
U.S. lawmakers have been pushing the White House to lift restrictions that have barred non-essential travel by Canadians across the northern U.S. border since March 2020, and many border communities have been hit hard by the closure. Mexico has also pressed the Biden administration to ease restrictions.
Senator Maria Cantwell said the announcement “will provide great relief to those waiting to see friends and loved ones from Canada.”
The White House announced on Sept. 20 that the United States in early November would lift travel restrictions on air travelers from 33 countries including China, India, Brazil and most of Europe who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. It also said it would extend the vaccine requirements to foreign air travelers from all other countries.
Foreign visitors crossing into the United States by land or ferry will need to be vaccinated but will not necessarily need to show proof of vaccination unless they are referred by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol for secondary inspections.
By contrast, all non-U.S. air travelers will need to show proof of vaccination before boarding a flight, and will need to show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test. Foreign visitors crossing a land border will not need to show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test.
On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the United States would accept https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-will-accept-who-approved-covid-19-vaccines-international-visitors-2021-10-08 the use by international visitors of COVID-19 vaccines authorized by U.S. regulators or the World Health Organization.
One question unanswered is whether the United States will accept vaccines from visitors who received doses of two different COVID-19 vaccines.
The U.S. land border restrictions have not barred U.S. citizens from returning home.
The new travel protocols will have no bearing on border crossers who enter the United States illegally, and the administration will continue to use the emergency public health authority known as Title 42 to rapidly return or “expel” those migrants, the officials said.
In contrast, travelers who enter the country lawfully at U.S. border crossings and other ports of entry pass quickly and are not held for prolonged periods in detention cells and other crowded settings where the virus is more likely to spread, the officials said.
The Biden administration has come under renewed pressure from immigrant advocates and others to end the Title 42 expulsions, which generally prevent migrants from requesting asylum or another form of humanitarian refuge. Since March 2020, when the Trump administration began using Title 42, authorities have expelled more than 1 million border crossers.
“The Title 42 restrictions are really about protecting the migrants themselves, the DHS workforce and local communities,” one official said. “There’s a strong public health basis, for the moment, for continuing with the Title 42 restrictions.”
Illegal border crossings have soared this year to the highest levels in at least two decades, and critics of the policy say the Biden administration is using it as a border control tool that deprives vulnerable migrants of a legal right to seek asylum.
— Reuters, Bloomberg, Canadian Press, The Washington Post