By Sheree Daniels
The U.S. will reopen its land borders to nonessential travel next month, ending a 19-month freeze due to the COVID-19 pandemic as the country moves to require all international visitors to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Vehicle, rail and ferry travel between the U.S., Canada and Mexico has been largely restricted to essential travel, such as trade, since the earliest days of the pandemic. The new rules, announced Wednesday, will allow fully vaccinated foreign nationals to enter the U.S. regardless of the reason for travel starting in early November, when a similar easing of restrictions is set to start for air travel into the country. By mid-January, even essential travellers seeking to enter the U.S., like truck drivers, will need to be fully vaccinated.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he was "pleased to be taking steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner” and lauded the economic benefits of it.
The new rules only apply to legal entry to the U.S. Officials cautioned that those seeking to enter illegally will still be subject to expulsion under so-called Title 42 authority, first invoked by former President Donald Trump, that has drawn criticism from immigration advocates for swiftly removing migrants before they can seek asylum. One of the officials said the U.S. was continuing the policy because cramped conditions in border patrol facilities pose a COVID-19 threat.
Travellers entering the U.S. by vehicle, rail or ferry will be asked about their vaccination status as part of the standard U.S. Customs and Border Protection admissions process. At officers' discretion, travellers will have their proof of vaccination verified in a secondary screening process.
Unlike air travel, for which proof of a negative COVID-19 test is required before boarding a flight to enter the U.S., no testing will be required to enter the U.S. by land or sea, provided the travellers meet the vaccination requirement.
What about Travelling from the UK to USA?
On Monday 20 September, the White House confirmed that it lifted most restrictions on travellers from the UK – as well as a handful of other countries including China and Brazil – allowing them to enter the US for the first time since March 2020. Those flying to the US will be required to be fully vaccinated. The change is expected to come into place from early November 2021 – though the exact date has not been confirmed yet. The White House coronavirus response coordinator, Jeff Zients, stated on Monday 20 September that the new policy will take effect in ‘early November’ to allow the travel industry time to prepare.
Prior to this, since Monday 16 March 2020, it has not been possible for British nationals who have been in the UK within the previous 14 days to enter the USA. These restrictions have also applied to those who have been in Ireland, Schengen zone, Iran, Brazil, China or South Africa. There are some exemptions, including permanent US residents and US citizens, specified close family members and diplomats.
Before the latest changes are introduced, at the time of writing (4 October 2021), all passengers flying into the USA from anywhere else in the world are required to provide proof of a negative Covid test (PCR or antigen) taken no more than 72 hours before departure. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) also requires that unvaccinated travellers (who are also US residents, citizens or close family members or diplomats) quarantine for at least seven days after arrival, and take a Covid test between days three and five. Those who have been fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine do not need to quarantine, but should take a test between days three and five.
So it still at this time looks like UK cannot enter the US just yet.