Biden administration easing restrictions for vaccinated foreign visitors

The Biden administration on Monday said it plans to ease restrictions on fully vaccinated international visitors beginning in early November.

All foreign visitors must be vaccinated against COVID-19, and must show proof of vaccination before boarding a U.S.-bound airline, White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said. He added that visitors traveling by plane must also provide a negative test taken no more than 72 hours prior to flying.

There will be no quarantine requirement, but Zients said there will be enhanced contact tracing, and masks will continue to be required on flights. Unvaccinated Americans will need to provide a negative test within one day of departure, and then test again when they arrive. 

Zients said the protocols will “protect Americans here at home, and enhance the safety of the international air travel system.” The new policy is possible because of the rising vaccination rates in other countries, he added.

“Today nearly 6 billion shots have been administered globally and dozens of countries have strong vaccination rates. Vaccines continue to show that they’re highly effective, including against the delta variant,” Zients said.

The administration will leave it up to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine which vaccines qualify.

The announcement represents a major victory for the travel industry and for European governments who had been pushing for a change.

The Biden administration has kept strict bans on nonessential travel from overseas, even as other countries have opened up their borders to fully vaccinated Americans.

Former President Trump instituted a travel ban on China in early 2020, which eventually expanded to include to Iran, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and the 29 regions in the European Schengen region.

Trump moved to lift restrictions on Europe and Brazil in the waning days of his term, but President Biden kept them in place once he took office. Biden also added restrictions on India amid a surge of COVID-19 infections there.

Biden administration officials in June formed working groups with Canada, Mexico, the European Union and the United Kingdom to weigh when to lift international travel restrictions, and in mid-July it seemed the administration was close to announcing a change. But as the delta variant spread and infections rose, the administration said the closures would remain in place.

Zients said the new policy will be stronger, as it will be based on individuals rather than countries.

Experts have said picking and choosing countries based off of COVID-19 infections is arbitrary because the disease is already entrenched in the U.S.

Despite the new announcement, Zients said the land border with Canada remains closed.

The U.K.’s ambassador to the U.S., Dame Karen Pierce, in a statement said the announcement is “great news for families and businesses on both sides of the Atlantic.”

“This decision means that more Brits can reunite with loved ones in the United States, more British holidaymakers can spend their hard-earned pounds in the American tourism sector, and more business activity can boost both of our economies,” Pierce said.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a tweet that he is “delighted” that Biden “is reinstating transatlantic travel so fully vaccinated UK nationals can visit the USA.”

“It’s a fantastic boost for business and trade, and great that family and friends on both sides of the pond can be reunited once again,” Johnson added.

Updated at 11:42 a.m.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump international travel Jeff Zients Joe Biden pandemic restrictions vaccinations

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