The Biden administration has signaled that it will extend for another 30 days the nonessential travel restrictions on the northern and southern United States borders that were put in place over a year ago to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Although the restrictions were set to expire Wednesday, they are now expected to last through Aug. 21, unless otherwise amended.
The decision comes amid mounting pressure on President Joe Biden to loosen pandemic travel restrictions as other nations have begun to drop them for Americans. Biden promised more clarity on the subject during a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week, after she raised the issue.
On Monday, Canada announced it would let fully vaccinated Americans cross its border for nonessential purposes beginning Aug. 9. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the same day that any changes to travel restrictions on the American side of the border would be “guided by our public health and medical experts.”
“I wouldn’t look at it through a reciprocal intention,” Psaki said.
In notices set to be published in the Federal Register on Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas noted there had been some “positive developments” in the coronavirus crisis ― such as the fact that nearly 60% of American adults are now fully vaccinated.
However, Mayorkas stated that the risk of transmission between the U.S., Canada and Mexico still poses an ongoing “specific threat to human life or national interests,” citing new variants that are more readily transmissible.
Only travel deemed “essential” will be permitted across the U.S. border with the two countries. Essential travel includes American citizens returning home and individuals traveling to the U.S. for medical treatment, to attend educational institutions, or to work in essential industries, like public health and agriculture. Cross-border trade is also included.
Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins, whose northern New York district includes Buffalo and Niagara Falls, said Wednesday he was “infuriated” by the decision to prolong the travel restrictions, calling it “completely unnecessary.”
“For months now people and businesses along the border have been strung along month after month holding out hope for the border to reopen,” Higgins said in a statement.
“While the United States does nothing, loved ones remain separated and communities whose economies rely on the cross-border exchange continue to suffer economically,” he continued. “Continuation of this shutdown is illogical given the success of vaccines and counterproductive putting the United States at a disadvantage given Canada’s decision to welcome back vaccinated Americans.”
During bilateral talks in Washington, Merkel pressed Biden on when non-American citizens could again begin to travel from Europe to the U.S. once again. Biden said that discussions about when restrictions would be lifted are “in process now,” and that he expects to be able to offer a clearer answer “within the next several days.”
“I’m waiting to hear from our folks in our COVID team as to when that should be done,” he said.
The European Union announced back in June that it would lift restrictions on Americans coming into the bloc, whether or not they had been vaccinated. At the time, European Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz told reporters that his side had “received reassurances that this is a high-priority issue for the U.S. administration,” with the goal of coming to a “sustainable” solution.
The Canada and Mexico restrictions originally went into effect on March 24, 2020, in response to the growing threat that COVID-19 posed to public health. Former President Donald Trump first banned travelers from the EU on March 12, 2020.