“The US’ new travel policy that requires vaccination for foreign national travellers to the United States will begin on Nov 8,” said Kevin Munoz, White House assistant press secretary, 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 move would relax a patchwork of bans that had begun to cause fury abroad and replacing them with more uniform requirements for inbound international air passengers. It will come as welcome news to the travel industry, which had been lobbying the federal government to lift some of the rules preventing international tourism, as well as airlines, hotels and hospitality groups.
A White House official told CNN further guidance on “very limited exceptions” to the requirements, along with what COVID-19 vaccines will be accepted and other operational details in advance of the November 8 date.
“CDC has already informed airlines that all FDA approved and authorised vaccines, as well as all vaccines that have an Emergency Use Listing (EUL) from the WHO will be accepted for air travel. We anticipate the same will be true at the land border,” the official said.
The same rules will also apply to non-essential travel at the American land borders and to visitors who arrive in the US by passenger ferry.
“These travellers are required to be prepared to attest to vaccination status and to present proof of vaccination to a CBP officer upon request,” the official said. “By January, foreign nationals travelling across the land border for both essential and non-essential reasons will be required to be fully vaccinated.”
Airlines have been voicing their support for Biden’s new travel policy. Airlines for America President and CEO Nick Calio said he is pleased with the news and that the safe reopening of borders is essential for the nation’s economic recovery.
“US airlines have been strong advocates for an individual risk-based system to safely ease travel restrictions, and we recognise that the safe reopening of borders is essential for our nation’s economic recovery. The full reopening of international travel is also critical to reviving economies around the globe, reinvigorating communities and supporting millions of jobs in the US and abroad,” Calio said in a statement.
He continued: “We have seen an increase in ticket sales for international travel over the past weeks, and are eager to begin safely reuniting the countless families, friends and colleagues who have not seen each other in nearly two years, if not longer.”
US travel bans were first imposed in the earliest days of the pandemic when then-President Donald Trump limited travel from China in January 2020. That step failed to prevent the virus from reaching the United States, but additional countries were added to the list as health officials pressed the White House to limit entry from places where case rates were high.
Trump added countries in the Schengen Zone — which encompasses 26 states in Europe, including France, Germany and Italy — along with Ireland and the United Kingdom. Brazil, South Africa and India were added separately. Land borders with Canada and Mexico were also closed.
Biden had maintained the strict bans on nonessential travel, even as vaccination rates in Europe ticked upward, citing the unpredictable nature of the pandemic and the emergence of the Delta variant.
But the system proved infuriating to European governments, whose countries’ citizens were still barred entry to the United States even as those nations brought their case counts down amid successful vaccination campaigns. Countries with higher case totals that were not on the list were not subject to the rules.
Over the course of the past months, travel restrictions on people wishing to enter the United States had devolved into a major transatlantic rift. European leaders, frustrated at the apparent lack of progress, began taking their gripes public. They said the rules were damaging relations between Europe and the United States.
Earlier this week, the White House announced it was planning to ease restrictions on travel for fully vaccinated visitors from Canada and Mexico starting in early November.
The US has been limiting nonessential travel on the ground along its borders with Canada and Mexico since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and extending those restrictions on a monthly basis.
The new rules, the White House said, would be rolled out in a phased approach. The first phase will kick off in early November and will allow fully vaccinated visitors travelling for nonessential reasons, like visiting friends or for tourism, to cross US land borders.
The second phase will start in early January 2022 and will apply the vaccination requirement to all inbound foreign travellers.