The United States recently announced that it will lift COVID-19 travel restrictions for fully vaccinated foreign travelers on November 8. On that day, the United States will permit air travelers from the European Union and the United Kingdom, among other countries, as well as travelers from Canada and Mexico crossing the U.S. land borders to enter the U.S. with proof of vaccination. The illogical travel restrictions, which have been in place since early 2020, irritated America’s European allies, who were frustrated by the lack of reciprocity. Similarly, the restrictions caused tension with the governments of Mexico and Canada, who lobbied for the U.S. to remove the restrictions.
For many months, U.S. allies have been expecting this announcement. While the Biden administration looked into gradually relaxing the travel restrictions, the Delta variant “significantly changed the president’s calculus.” As more and more countries vaccinate their citizens, the United States finally decided to begin relaxing the restrictions. Yet, the administration’s decision to allow fully vaccinated citizens traveling by air from the European Union and United Kingdom and across the land border from Canada and Mexico – many of the United States’ closest friends – was long overdue.
Across the Pond
The United States announced in September that the travel ban would be lifted for fully vaccinated international travelers, including those coming from the European Union and United Kingdom, without specifying a date for the change in policy. The Trump administration instituted the ban in January 2020 in hopes of mitigating the spread of COVID-19 into the United States. The Biden administration continued the travel ban upon taking office, noting that the restrictions were necessary after the surge of the Delta variant.
However, the continued ban was angered America’s European allies due to the lack of reciprocity. Many across Europe anticipated that the Biden administration would lift the ban shortly upon taking office. After all, the United Kingdom allows fully vaccinated Americans to enter. Similarly, in June, the European Union began admitting fully vaccinated U.S. citizens. However, the Biden administration did not take such steps until September, further straining transatlantic ties that are currently in turmoil after the recent AUKUS alliance announcement and the abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan.
British and EU officials have long argued that the travel bans were not necessary based on the fact that COVID-19 vaccination rates in Europe are higher than those in the United States. Many European countries have more vaccinated citizens when compared to the United States. According to the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data project, nearly 65 percent of all adults in the European Union are fully vaccinated. Similarly, 67 percent of the United Kingdom’s population are fully vaccinated. This compares to 57 percent of Americans who are fully vaccinated. European and British vaccination totals surpass those of the United States. Thus, based on vaccination data alone, the United States should have lifted the travel ban on its European friends much earlier.
The Border Lands
For the first time since March 2020, vaccinated travelers from Mexico and Canada may enter the United States by crossing the land border, aligning the requirements for crossing the border by land with those of air travel. The Trump administration first implemented the travel restrictions on its land borders with Canada and Mexico in March 2020, just a week after placing travel restrictions on much of Europe. Since the restrictions went into place, those traveling to the U.S. by land were only permitted to enter for essential reasons.
The travel restrictions strained U.S. relations with its closest neighbors. One kicker for Canada was the fact that the Canadian government, much like the European Union, had reopened its border to the United States in August, allowing U.S. citizens to travel into Canada. Yet, much like in Europe, Canada’s vaccination rates are higher than those of the United States: approximately 74 percent of Canada’s population was fully vaccinated, compared to 57 percent of America’s population.
According to the Our World in Data project, 41 percent of the Mexican population are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. While Mexico’s total count of fully vaccinated citizens is lower than that of Canada and the United States, Mexico’s total percentage of citizens with at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot, 54 percent, is not much lower than the total of U.S. citizens with at least one shot, totaling 66 percent. The Biden administration can no longer use the rise of the Delta variant and lack of vaccinated populations as an excuse to maintain travel restrictions. In fact, the Biden administration should have opened cross-border travel of those coming from Canada and Mexico who are fully vaccinated months ago.
On November 8, fully vaccinated international travelers, coming by air or land, will be able to enter the United States for the first time in almost two years. Instituted to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the United States by the Trump administration, the Biden administration continued these efforts. The continued travel restrictions on travelers coming from the European Union and the United Kingdom, as well as border closures to travelers coming to the U.S. land borders with Canada and Mexico, frustrating some of its closest allies and causing tension with its only two neighbors, with whom the United States typically maintains close ties. The United States should have eased pandemic-implemented travel restrictions to fully vaccinated travelers from these countries much earlier.