The US will reopen its land borders to nonessential travel in November, 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 US and Canada and Mexico has been largely restricted to essential travel, such as trade, since the earliest days of the pandemic.
The new rules, announced by homeland security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday, will allow fully vaccinated foreign nationals to enter the US regardless of the reason for travel starting in early November.
Mayorkas said in a statement the administration next month “will begin allowing travellers from Mexico and Canada who are fully vaccinated for Covid-19 to enter the United States for non-essential purposes, including to visit friends and family or for tourism, via land and ferry border crossings.”
A similar easing of restrictions is set to kick in for air travel into the country, allowing entry to fully vaccinated passengers from the UK and most EU countries. By mid-January, even essential travellers seeking to enter the US, like truck drivers, will need to be fully vaccinated.
Lawmakers from US border states praised the move to lift the unprecedented restrictions, which have harmed the economies of local communities and prevented visits to friends and families for 19 months.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, members of our shared cross-border community have felt the pain and economic hardship of the land border closures. That pain is about to end,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.
Both Mexico and Canada have pressed the US for months to ease restrictions on travel that have separated families and curtailed leisure trips since the onset of the pandemic.
Canada on began allowing fully vaccinated US visitors for non-essential travel on 9 August.
The precise date in early November when the restrictions will be lifted will be announced “very soon”, one official told Reuters.
The new rules only apply to legal entry to the US.
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 removing migrants before they can seek asylum.
An official said the US was continuing the policy because cramped conditions in border patrol facilities pose a Covid-19 threat.
According to the officials, travellers entering the US by vehicle, rail and ferry will be asked about their vaccination status as part of the standard US customs process.
Unlike air travel, for which proof of a negative Covid-19 test is required before boarding a flight to enter the US, no testing will be required to enter the US by land or sea, provided the travellers meet the vaccination requirement.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US will accept travellers who have been fully vaccinated with any of the vaccines approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, not just those in use in the US. That means that the AstraZeneca vaccine, widely used in Canada, will be accepted.
Officials said the CDC was still working to formalise procedures for admitting those who received doses of two different vaccines, as was fairly common in Canada.
The delay in the vaccination requirement for essential cross-border travel is meant to provide truck drivers and others with additional time to get a shot and minimise potential economic disruption from the vaccination mandate, officials said.
The vaccination requirement for foreign nationals comes as the White House has moved to impose sweeping vaccination-or-testing requirements affecting as many as 100 million people in the US in an effort to encourage holdouts to get shots.
On Tuesday, the US Department of Labor completed the initial draft of an emergency regulation that will require employers of 100 workers or more to demand their employees be vaccinated against Covid-19 or tested weekly. The order is being reviewed before its implementation.
Mexico has not put in place any Covid-19 entry procedures for travellers. Canada allows entry of those with proof of vaccination against Covid-19 as well as proof of a negative test conducted within 72 hours of entry to the country.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report