WASHINGTON — The United States 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, marking a relief to those in the Canadian auto industry.
Vehicle, rail and ferry travel between the United States 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 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 is set to kick in for air travel into the country. By mid-January, even essential travelers seeking to enter the United States, such as 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.
"We welcome the U.S. announcement to reopen the Canada-US land border to fully vaccinated travelers from Canada," said Brian Kingston, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers' Association, which represents the Detroit Three in Canada. "Reopening the land border creates certainty for the automotive industry that relies on the efficient movement of goods and people across North America.”
Both Mexico and Canada have pressed the United States for months to ease restrictions on travel that have separated families and curtailed leisure trips since the onset of the pandemic. The latest move follows last month's announcement that the United States will end country-based travel bans for air travel and instead require vaccination for foreign nationals seeking to enter by plane.
Senior administration officials had previewed the new land border policy late Tuesday. Both policies will take effect in early November, the officials said.
The opening should be welcome news to Canada’s automotive industry. While the border partially opened Aug. 9, when vaccinated Americans could enter Canada, it still hampered business, particularly in the country’s auto supply chain.
Before Aug. 9, technical personnel from the United States were having trouble getting into Canada. Canadian staff heading south, on the other hand, have typically had the ability to fly into the United States. Driving added hurdles, even for essential travelers.
Jeanine Lassaline-Berglund, president of the Canadian Association of Moldmakers, also welcomed the news. But she said "things have settled to a degree" since her association's development of the Border Crossing Guide and the opening of the Canadian Border to fully vaccinated U.S. visitors. Invest Windsor Essex also helped on the guide.
"That said, we remain concerned about the relationships that have been strained and the lost opportunities that have yet to be revealed as a result. We will be continuing to look at these trends as we move forward," Lassaline Beglund said.
The new travel 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 United States was continuing the policy because cramped conditions in border patrol facilities pose a COVID-19 threat.
Travelers entering the United States. by vehicle, rail and ferry will be asked about their vaccination status as part of the standard U.S. Customs and Border Protection admissions process. At officers' discretion, travelers 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 United States by land or sea, provided the travelers meet the vaccination requirement.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States 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 in use in the U.S. That means that the AstraZeneca vaccine, widely used in Canada, will be accepted.
Officials said the CDC was still working to formalize 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 minimize potential economic disruption from the vaccination mandate, officials said.
All told, the new procedures move toward a policy based on the risk profiles of individuals, rather than less targeted country-based bans.
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 United States in an effort to encourage holdouts to get shots.
On Tuesday, the U.S. 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 Office of Management and Budget is now reviewing the order before its implementation.
The move toward restoring regular travel comes as COVID-19 cases in the United States have dropped to about 85,000 per day, the lowest level since July, following a spike from the more transmissible delta variant of the virus. Per capita case rates in Canada and Mexico have been been markedly lower in the two countries than the United States for the duration of the pandemic, which amplified frustrations about the U.S. restrictions on travel.
Mexico has not put in place any COVID-19 entry procedures for travelers. Canada allows entry of fully-vaccinated individuals with proof of vaccination against COVID-19 as well as proof of a negative test conducted within 72 hours of entry to the country.
With files from Automotive News Canada.