The Biden administration is reportedly looking a measures to allow fully vaccinated foreign visitors into the US, easing travel restrictions that have barred most inbound international travel since the beginning of the pandemic.
Characterizing the plan as part of “a phased approach to easing travel restrictions,” a White House official told Reuters that the administration wants to reopen travel, but will not immediately lift restrictions due to the rise in COVID-19 cases and the spread of the delta variant.
At the end of July, the White House announced that US restrictions on foreign travelers would remain in place “at this point.” However elsewhere in the world, quarantine measures for those US travelers who are considered fully vaccinated have been steadily easing.
As a result, foreign leaders are ratcheting up pressure on the Biden White House to reciprocate. During an interview with German press RND, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen urged the US to lift its travel ban on EU travelers.
“The epidemiological situation in the U.S. and the EU today is very similar,” von der Leyen said. “We need to solve the problem as soon as possible and are in contact with our American friends. That shouldn’t drag on for weeks.”
Last week, Germany’s coordinator for transatlantic affairs, Peter Beyer, told reporters, “We urgently need fact-based reciprocity in the entry rules between the US and the Schengen area,” according to the EUObserver.
A New System
Currently the US bars most foreign citizens who have been in the United Kingdom, the 26 Schengen nations in Europe without border controls, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil within a two-week period prior to arrival.
President Donald Trump had imposed the sweeping travel bans in March 2020 during the early days of the pandemic. Trump had actually lifted the restrictions on travel from Europe and Brazil in the waning days of his presidency, but they were immediately reinstated by incoming President Joe Biden in January. Over time other countries were added, most recently India, which was put on the list in May.
Now, the administration has interagency working groups developing “a new system ready for when we can reopen travel,” according to a White House official. “This includes a phased approach that over time will mean, with limited exceptions, that foreign nationals traveling to the United States (from all countries) need to be fully vaccinated.”
The administration has not yet said when any vaccination requirement for foreign traveler might be put in place, or what exemptions may apply. All travelers to the US regardless of vaccination status, including returning US citizens, are required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of air travel to the country.
The White House says it is maintaining the current rules amid concerns over the rising number of coronavirus cases in the US and the spread of the highly transmissible COVID-19 delta variant.
However critics in the travel industry and some in the scientific community question the effectiveness of border restrictions at stopping variants from entering the country, pointing out that even with continued transatlantic closures, new variants have still jumped from country to country.
In fact, the much-anticipated delta variant already represents more than 90 percent of cases in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Further adding to the confusion, data show some banned countries appear to have the case numbers under control while others with rising COVID-19 infections are not on the list.
Nonetheless, concerns over the prevalence of the delta variant have been a setback for administration efforts to reopen travel, delays which continue to pile up losses for the travel and hospitality industries.
“Every week that travel bans on the UK, EU, and Canada remain in place, our economy loses $1.5 billion in spending, which would support 10,000 American jobs,” according to Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy at US Travel.
“The US travel industry welcomes reports that the Biden administration is building a plan to reopen our borders to fully vaccinated international travelers,” Barnes added.
“We urge the administration to advance this plan for 212(f) countries and set a reopening date as quickly as possible, especially as the UK, much of the EU, and Canada have all taken recent similar steps to reopen their borders to vaccinated travelers and rebuild their economies.”