It’s true, the end of travel bans is in sight. The White House recently announced that it would ease travel restrictions on all fully vaccinated foreign visitors and United States citizens. With this announcement, the Biden Administration shifts from banning travel from specific countries to an individual approach. In other words, there will be no more bans purely based on geography. Previously, individuals from several countries and regions could not enter the U.S. This ban included people from China, Iran, the Schengen Area, UK, Ireland, Brazil, South Africa, and India. Now, anyone can enter with proof of vaccination. Additionally, each traveler must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within three days of boarding a flight to the United States. Most likely, these changes will take effect in November.
To provide you with answers to specific questions, below are the actual and relevant Q&As supplied by the White House.
Q: Why have you kept the previous policies in place for so long? Why make this change now? What changed between now and January when you took over this system and kept it in place for 8 months?
Maintaining the prior system while vaccinations ramped up around the world was the most effective way to keep Americans safe. Now, nearly 6 billion shots have been given globally and dozens of countries have strong vaccination rates. This new system allows us to implement strict protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from passengers flying internationally into the United States, by requiring that adult foreign nationals traveling to the United States be fully vaccinated.
Q: Why are you announcing it now if it won’t be active until November? What are next steps?
Announcing the changes now gives the appropriate amount of time for strong implementation. Airlines and other private businesses need some lead time to make business decisions about travel later in the year and to prepare for putting the changes in place.
CDC will be replacing the current Global Testing Order with an updated approach that requires vaccination for foreign nationals, tightens the pre-departure testing requirements, and adds a post-arrival testing requirement for unvaccinated travelers. They will also be issuing a new Contact Tracing Order.
DHS, FAA, and State will also be working to develop the directives and processes for implementing these changes via the boarding process with airlines and through consular affairs offices.
So, we are going to take the time to get this right.
Q: Won’t this change increase travel to the United States? Doesn’t that add to risk at a time when hospitals are overflowing in many parts of the country?
This enhances the protections for the American people by requiring ALL foreign nationals to be fully vaccinated before boarding a plane to come to the United States, with very limited exceptions. It will also require American citizens and residents who are not vaccinated to test within a day of boarding a plane rather than three days, which will provide stronger protections against infected people boarding planes.
Q: What proof of vaccination status will you accept?
We will be requiring proof of vaccination status to be presented before boarding. The type of proof required will be worked out as the detailed implementation plan is developed in the coming weeks.
Q: What vaccines will you accept?
We will look to CDC to guide which vaccines will be accepted, as part of their standard role in determining who is considered fully vaccinated for the purposes of recommended or required international travel protocols.
Q: Are you planning to end Title 19 restrictions on non-essential travel at the land border?
Title 19 is being extended for another month through October 21, and we do not have further updates to that policy at this time.
Q: What are you doing to step up mitigation at the land border, if anything? Or instead are you going to have an inconsistency where unvaccinated people can cross the land border but not get on a plane?
Today, the administration is announcing a move to a safer and more harmonized global approach to international inbound air travel, and our focus will be on implementing those changes. We do not have any updates to the land border policies at this time.
Q: Who will be excepted from the full vaccination requirement for foreign nationals?
The exceptions will be very narrow, such as for children; COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial participants; and, humanitarian exceptions for people traveling for an important reason and who lack access to vaccination in a timely manner. There will be very limited exceptions. And we will be requiring that people who receive these very limited exceptions agree to get vaccinated upon arrival.
Q: Won’t requiring vaccination be highly inequitable, especially for countries with low vaccine access?
We believe that the vast majority of people who can travel internationally to the U.S. will be able to access a vaccine. For those who have a compelling and urgent reason to come to the United States and are not able to access a vaccine in a timely manner prior to departure, we will have in place very limited exceptions for which they can apply. And we will be requiring that people who receive these very limited exceptions agree to get vaccinated upon arrival.
Q: What additional mitigation steps are you taking beyond the vaccination requirement?
We have extended the masking order through January 18, 2022. CDC will also be stepping up pre-departure and post-arrival testing requirements. CDC will also be putting in place a contact tracing order.
Q: Why not take down 212(f) now?
We are taking down 212(f) for the countries to which it applies today concurrent with the early November start of the new system.
Q: When will the policies be final and made public?
We anticipate these policies will be effective by early November.
Great News for Employers
Having the end of travel bans in sight is excellent news for employers. Hopefully, soon employees stuck overseas can return to work in the U.S. It would be a positive step in the return of regular business activity.
Please contact me if you have any questions about the White House’s announcement and how it impacts your operations. As with all immigration laws, the devil is in the details.