After a nearly 19-month pause, the U.S. has announced that fully vaccinated international travelers will be able to enter the country as of November 8. This follows a Wednesday announcement from the White House, saying the U.S. would open its land borders and ferry ports of entry from Canada and Mexico for non-essential purposes—but only to those who have completed their approved vaccination doses.
That means travelers looking to enter the country, whether it’s to reunite with family and friends or as a tourist, will be able to do so again for the first time since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. The policy will start November 8, “in alignment with the new international air travel system,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement, referring to the newly announced date given by the White House for when all international plane passengers coming into the U.S. will need to be vaccinated.
The reopening of the Canadian and Mexican land borders will happen in two steps. First, international travelers with non-essential business will be able to enter starting November 8 by showing documentation that they are fully inoculated with an approved vaccine, while those who haven’t been vaccinated still won’t be able to enter the country for non-essential reasons. Then, in the second phase starting in January 2022, even those who do have essential travel purposes—like students, truckers, and health care workers—will also need to have proof of full vaccination to cross the borders.
“These new vaccination requirements deploy the best tool we have in our arsenal to keep people safe and prevent the spread of [COVID-19] and will create a consistent, stringent protocol for all foreign nationals traveling into the United States whether by land or air,” a senior administration official told reporters, according to CNN.
While international travelers coming in by plane will also need to show a negative COVID test in addition to being fully vaccinated, those crossing the borders by land will only need proof of vaccination, The New York Times explained. Any of the vaccines that have been approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization will be accepted, including Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, Janssen/Johnson & Johnson, Astrazeneca-SK Bio, Serum Institute of India, and Sinopharm. The procedure for those who received doses of different vaccines —which was commonplace in Canada—is still being determined, according to the Associated Press.
Since both the northern and southern borders were sealed off in March 2020, the timeline for reopening had been continually pushed back, most recently in 30-day increments, with the latest one in effect until October 21. But the reciprocal policy hadn’t been the same, as Canada reopened to American travelers August 9, while Mexico never shut down its border.
The reopening news is being lauded by the travel industry, with many expecting the relaxed restrictions to rev up leisure tourism. “U.S. Travel has long called for the safe reopening of our borders, and we welcome the Biden administration’s announcement of a set date to welcome back vaccinated international travelers,” U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow said in a statement on Friday. In a previous statement, Dow noted that the closed borders have meant losses of about $700 million per month to the U.S. economy, totaling an estimated $250 billion in lost export income and likely more than a million lost jobs in the U.S.
The news is especially welcome at border cities, where restrictions have had a serious impact on their bottom line for the last 19 months. “Cross-border travel creates significant economic activity in our border communities and benefits our broader economy,” Mayorkas said. “We are pleased to be taking steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner.”
Those steps have been slowly coming, as news of the November welcoming of vaccinated air passengers first was limited to those in the U.K. and European Union, but started to become more general as a White House senior administration official said in September, “We’ll be moving to a consistent requirement for all international air travelers coming to the United States,” explaining that “strict protocols” would be put into place in early November “requiring that adult foreign nationals traveling here be fully vaccinated.”
As of now, vaccination requirements for domestic travel aren’t on the books, though they have been talked about. President Biden’s chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said on CNN Sunday: “It’s always discussable, we always wind up discussing it, but right now I don’t see that immediately.”