WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. will reopen its land borders to nonessential travel next month, ending a 19-month freeze due to the COVID-19 pandemic as the country moves to require all international visitors to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Vehicle, rail and ferry travel between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico has been largely restricted to essential travel, such as trade, since the earliest days of the pandemic. The new rules announced Wednesday will allow foreigners who have been fully vaccinated to enter the U.S., regardless of their reason for travel. This change is expected to take effect in November when similar restrictions will be lifted for air travel. Even essential travelers, such as truck drivers, who wish to enter the U.S. will need to be fully immunized by mid-January.
Homeland security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas stated that he was pleased to “take steps to resume regular travel safely and sustainably” and highlighted the economic benefits.
Both Mexico and Canada have pressed the U.S. for months to ease restrictions on travel that have separated families and curtailed leisure trips since the onset of the pandemic. This latest action follows the announcement last month that the U.S. would end country-based travel bans on air travel and require foreign nationals to be vaccinated.
Senior officials from the administration had seen the new land-border policy late Tuesday. The officials stated that both policies will be in effect by November 1.
The new rules will only apply to legal entry into the U.S. Officials warned that illegal immigrants may still be expelled under Title 42 authority. This authority was first invoked in 2016 by former President Donald Trump. It has been criticized for removing migrants quickly before they can seek asylum. One of the officials said the U.S. was continuing the policy because cramped conditions in border patrol facilities pose a COVID-19 threat.
All travelers entering the U.S. via vehicle, rail or ferry will need to provide proof of vaccination as part the U.S. Customs and Border Protection admissions process. Travelers may have their proof of vaccination checked in secondary screening at the discretion of officers.
Unlike air travel, for which proof of a negative COVID-19 test is required before boarding a flight to enter the U.S., no testing will be required to enter the U.S. by land or sea, provided the travelers meet the vaccination requirement.
According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the United States will accept travelers who are fully vaccinated using any vaccines approved for emergency use only by the World Health Organization. This means that AstraZeneca, which is widely used in Canada ,, will be accepted.
Officials stated that the CDC was still working on formalizing procedures for admitting people who have received two vaccines as it was quite common in Canada .
Officials stated that the delay in the mandatory vaccination for cross-border travel is intended to allow truck drivers and other road users more time to get shots and to minimize economic disruptions from the mandate.
All in all, the new procedures are moving towards a policy that is based on risk profiles of individuals and not less targeted countries-based bans.
The vaccination requirement for foreign nationals comes as the White House has moved to impose sweeping vaccination-or-testing requirements affecting as many as 100 million people in the U.S. in an effort to encourage holdouts to get shots.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Labor completed the initial draft of an emergency regulation that will require employers of 100 workers or more to demand their employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested weekly. Before the order is implemented, the Office of Management and Budget will be reviewing it.
The move toward restoring regular travel comes as COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have dropped to about 85,000 per day, the lowest level since July, following a spike from the more transmissible delta variant of the virus. Per capita case rates in Canada and Mexico have been markedly lower in the two countries than the U.S. for the duration of the pandemic, which amplified frustrations about the U.S. restrictions on travel.
Mexico has not put in place any COVID-19 entry procedures for travelers. Canada allows entry of fully-vaccinated individuals with proof of vaccination against COVID-19 as well as proof of a negative test conducted within 72 hours of entry to the country.
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