US Allowing Non-Essential Travel from Canada, Europe & Others: What Travelers Need to Know
The US’ borders will be opening to authorized travelers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 on November 8, according to an announcement from the White House. This marks the first-time international travelers will be allowed to enter the US for non-essential travel since March 2020.
“The US' new travel policy that requires vaccination for foreign national travelers to the United States will begin on Nov 8,” Kevin Munoz, White House assistant press secretary posted on Twitter. “This announcement and date applies to both international air travel and land travel. This policy is guided by public health, stringent, and consistent.”
The restrictions were originally put in place during the Trump Administration in March 2020 to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The Biden Administration extended the travel restrictions several times, frustrating other countries that opened their borders to vaccinated Americans earlier. The Biden Administration cited a focus on science and safety in its decision to delay the border reopening.
Additionally, the US land border with Canada and Mexico is scheduled to reopen to travelers, in November, though the exact date hasn’t been set. Those traveling by air for non-essential reasons from Canada will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination. Essential travelers such as healthcare workers and truckers who cross the border by land were never banned from crossing land borders but will be required to present proof of vaccination starting in January 2022.
“We are pleased to be taking steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.
The US opening again to foreign nationals seemingly marks a turning point in the country’s recovery after the pandemic, but still raises questions for how travel and immigration will be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic moving forward.
US Border Opening Implications for Business Immigration & Global Mobility
World leaders praised the Biden Administration's decision to reopen the US to travel, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying the announcement is “a fantastic boost for business and trade, and great that family and friends on both sides of the pond can be reunited once again.”
The positive business impact of lifting the travel ban on travelers from abroad was echoed by Bernhard Mueller, co-chair of Ogletree Deakins’ Immigration Practice Group.
“This will have a very positive impact on business immigration, because now it allows folks to travel internationally, without facing travel bans, delays and the inability to return to the United States. I would say a large number of business travelers are fully vaccinated, so we'll probably not have a significant problem with a new vaccination requirement, particularly for folks coming from Europe,” he said.
However, while travelers from countries with widespread access to the vaccine won’t have much trouble complying with the vaccine requirement, some countries that haven’t had the resources for widespread COVID-19 vaccinations may have a harder time complying.
“Where the disruptions are going to occur now with us rescinding the travel bans and imposing this mandatory vaccination requirement, are with developing countries that do not have advanced vaccination rates, and will be negatively impacted,” Mr. Mueller said. “Countries that had not been subject to a travel ban, such as Brazil and India, are now somewhat impacted by these vaccination requirements.”
For travelers looking to come to the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance for the vaccines it will accept, including any Food & Drug Administration (FDA) authorized or approved vaccines or vaccines the World Health Organization (WHO) has authorized. Travelers will also be required to provide a negative COVID-19 test before they travel to the US. However, another potential roadblock that could come with the COVID-19 vaccination requirement is the potential for some instances of vaccinations not being accepted, including if the traveler received shots from different manufacturers.
“In some European countries, for instance, when folks got vaccinated, they may have a Pfizer vaccine and then AstraZeneca vaccine as the second one,” Mr. Mueller said. “Whether that is going to be acceptable as evidence of being fully vaccinated, that's still up in the air. We don't have clarification on that yet.”
Despite the uncertainty around the COVID-19 vaccine requirement, the announcement of travel to the US becoming easier is a welcome change for those who travel to the US frequently, live along the border or have family members living overseas and for the airlines and all other travel-related industries. According to the Wall Street Journal, business groups cited the border reopening to nonessential travel as a way to ease the financial burdens brought on by the pandemic. The announcement also means travel for business will become easier, but potential visa backlogs at consulates still present a roadblock.
“What's still somewhat of an obstacle is the lingering effects on COVID on staffing at US consulates, and US consulates abroad still being unable to accommodate the backlog of visa applications,” Mr. Mueller said.
“That essentially means that if you need a visa right now to enter the United States - a business visa, business visitor visa, or a work visa - you are in many areas, particularly in Europe, facing months of delays before you even get a visa. And that is still a significant impact on businesses resuming normal operations.”
What Do International Travelers to the US Need to Know?
The US opening borders is a sign that the country is moving away from full coronavirus restrictions, in spite of mask and COVID vaccine requirements being disputed in various regions of the US for employees and customers of various businesses. Unless the COVID-19 situation worsens once again, it is likely that the borders will remain open to some degree from here onward. While the news that travel to the US will be possible again for non US citizens living abroad, the long term effects on immigration remain unclear.
"What's the long term impact on immigration? It's hard to tell. Immigration is a fickle thing. And it certainly also depends on who's sitting in the White House. And do we wish that these types of announcements would come earlier so that the business community can adequately adapt and and strategize on how to react to those? Yes. But it's probably a pipe dream," Mr. Mueller said. "It has had a negative impact for sure that folks weren't able to come to the United States for business meetings."