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The Biden administration will soon allow nonessential travelers from Canada or Mexico who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter the country via land crossings, laying out a two-stage process to require everyone entering the country to be fully vaccinated.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will announce on Wednesday that foreign nationals who have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and have the appropriate paperwork to enter the U.S. can do so beginning in early November, a senior administration official said.
Currently, only “essential” travelers from Canada and Mexico are allowed into the U.S. at border crossings, regardless of their vaccination status. Essential travelers will have until early January to become fully vaccinated.
An announcement last month detailed plans to permit vaccinated air travelers to enter the U.S. but didn’t extend the same permissions to crossings at the northern and southern borders.
“We understand how valuable the cross-border travel from Canada and Mexico is to the economic activity in border communities and to our broader economy,” a senior administration official told reporters. “We also know how meaningful the ability to travel is to maintain the personal ties between people living on either side of the northern and southern U.S. borders, who are often effectively members of one community. And we are pleased to be able to move forward with these strict protocols that ensure cross border travel can occur in a safe and sustainable manner.”
Border agents will require travelers to show documents confirming vaccination status and conduct “spot-checking” of documents.
A foreign national who is not vaccinated and traveling for nonessential reasons will not be permitted to enter the country, officials said. Vaccination guidelines will be determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including which shots are approved for use.
“This will actually be a stricter system,” the official said.
Travelers attempting to enter the country illegally will still be subject to restrictions, including expulsion. The Biden administration has struggled with a crisis at the southern border, with authorities encountering more than 200,000 people illegally crossing into the U.S. in August.
Last month President Joe Biden announced new vaccination rules for air travelers entering the country, requiring nearly all foreign nationals to be fully vaccinated starting in early November. The new protocol will mimic this rule and go into effect at the same time.
“Starting in early November, we will begin allowing fully vaccinated travelers from Mexico and Canada to enter the United States for nonessential reasons, such as to visit friends and family or for tourism,” the official said. “Unvaccinated travelers will still be prohibited from traveling to the United States for nonessential reasons.”
The second phase will take effect in early January 2022, permitting only fully vaccinated travelers to cross the southern and northern U.S. borders, regardless of their visit purpose.
“We will require that inbound foreign national travelers crossing the land borders be fully vaccinated, whether traveling for essential or nonessential reasons,” this official said. “This phased approach will provide ample time for essential travelers, such as truckers and others, to get vaccinated, enabling a smooth transition to this new system.”
Calls for the U.S. to reopen its land borders have grown louder in recent weeks.
Since late summer, Canada and the U.S. have operated under two different systems as Canada reopened its land border to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens. The rule change meant that U.S. citizens could enter the neighboring country for nonessential purposes, such as travel, but Canadians could not do the same.
Lawmakers have pressed the White House to lift the restrictions at the border, charging that the restrictions harmed the U.S. economy.
The Biden administration’s “continued refusal to open the northern border is inexplicable and is devastating Montana border communities and our economy,” said Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana in September.
At the time of Daines’ comments, the U.S. had recently extended its land border restrictions with Canada and Mexico through late October. The U.S. has extended the restrictions each month since March 2020 amid the spread of coronavirus.
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Original Author: Katherine Doyle