WASHINGTON (AP) – The United States will open its land borders to non-essential travel next month, ending a 19-month freeze over the COVID-19 pandemic as the country requires all foreign tourists to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Transport, rail and ferry services between the United States and Canada and Mexico have largely been limited to essential travel such as trade since the early days of the pandemic. The new rules, which will be announced Wednesday, will allow fully vaccinated foreign nationals to enter the United States regardless of the reason for travel, starting in early November, when a similar easing of restrictions on air travel to the country is planned. By mid-January, even major travelers wishing to enter the United States, such as truck drivers, will need to be fully vaccinated.
Senior administration officials announced the new policy Tuesday night on condition of anonymity to address the official announcement.
Both Mexico and Canada have pressured the US for months to loosen travel restrictions that have left families apart and have cut vacation travel since the pandemic began. The latest move follows an announcement last month that the US would lift travel bans on air travel and would instead require vaccinations for foreign nationals wishing to enter by plane.
Both policies will take effect in early November, officials said. They did not provide a specific date.
The new rules only apply to legal entry into the United States. Officials have warned that those attempting to enter illegally will continue to be subject to expulsion under the so-called Title 42 powers, first cited by former President Donald Trump, who drew criticism from immigration lawyers for swiftly evicting migrants before how they can seek refuge. One official said the US is pursuing this policy as cramped conditions at border patrols pose a COVID-19 threat.
Travelers entering the United States by car, rail, or ferry will be asked about their vaccination status as part of the standard US Customs and Border Protection admission process, officials said. At the discretion of the officers, travelers will check evidence of vaccination during the secondary screening process.
Unlike air travel, which requires confirmation of a negative COVID-19 test before boarding a flight to enter the United States, testing is not required to enter the United States by land or sea, provided travelers meet vaccination requirements.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US will accept travelers who have been fully vaccinated with any of the vaccines approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, not just those used in the US. This means that the AstraZeneca vaccine, widely used in Canada, will be accepted.
Officials said the CDC was still working to formalize admission procedures for those who received doses of two different vaccines, which was fairly common in Canada.
The delay in requiring vaccinations for important cross-border travel is designed to give truck drivers and others extra time to get vaccinated and to minimize potential economic shocks from the vaccination mandate, officials said.
In general, the new procedures are aimed at policies based on individual risk profiles rather than less targeted bans at the country level.
The vaccination requirement for foreign nationals arose as the White House began to impose massive vaccination or testing requirements affecting up to 100 million people in the United States to encourage vaccine dissent.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Labor completed an initial draft of the state of emergency, requiring employers with 100 employees or more to require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or weekly tested. The Office of Management and Budget is currently reviewing the order prior to implementation.
Mexico has not introduced any entry procedures for travelers with COVID-19. Canada allows entry to fully vaccinated individuals with proof of vaccination against COVID-19 and proof of a negative test result within 72 hours of entering the country.