MIAMI – Beginning in November, the Biden administration will relax travel restrictions on foreigners who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The decision would reopen the country to tens of thousands of people separated during the pandemic.

According to Jeff Zients, the White House pandemic coordinator, international travelers will need to produce confirmation of immunization before boarding and a negative coronavirus test within three days of arriving in the United States.

Mr. Zients said, “International travel is critical to connecting families and friends, to fueling small and large businesses, to promoting the open exchange [of] ideas and culture. That’s why, with science and public health as our guide, we have developed a new international air travel system that both enhances the safety of Americans here at home and enhances the safety of international air travel.”

Mr. Zients also explained that the changes announced solely affect air travel and have no bearing on controls along the land border.

British Airways Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner G-ZBJF – Photo: Roberto Leiro/Airways

A Controled Reopening of International Air Travel

Unvaccinated Americans who wish to return home as the holiday season nears will be subjected to more stringent testing. Mr. Zients said they will need to test negative for the coronavirus one day before coming to the United States and produce documentation that they have purchased a test to take once they arrive.

The CDC will also publish an order soon instructing airlines to gather phone numbers and email addresses from passengers for a new contact-tracing system. After that, authorities will contact the travelers to see if they are experiencing any signs of the illness.

"This announcement marks a key shift in managing the risks of COVID-19 from blanket considerations at the national level to the assessment of individual risk." Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General Click To Tweet

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) applauded the Biden Administration’s decision to allow vaccinated travelers to enter the US with a negative COVID-19 test result prior to travel. Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General, commented on the US decision by stating:

“Today’s announcement is a major step forward. Allowing access to the US for those vaccinated will open travel to the US for many who have been locked out for the past 18 months. This is excellent news for families and loved ones who have suffered through the heartache and loneliness of separation. It’s good for the millions of livelihoods in the US that depend on global tourism. And it will boost the economic recovery by enabling some key business travel markets.”

Photo: United Airlines

212f Restrictions, Access to Vaccines

In January 2020, the Trump administration began enforcing travel limits against foreign visitors with the intention of reducing disease transmission. The so-called 212f restrictions barred people from entering the US if they had spent the previous 14 days in one of 33 countries, including the United Kingdom, Ireland, all Schengen nations, Brazil, South Africa, India, or China.

The travel ban issued by the former President resulted in a mass exodus of Americans, with crowded, chaotic airports with porous security inspections, as recollected by the New York Times.

The Suspension and Limitation on Entry (sections 212f and 215a of the Immigration and Nationality Act) proclaimed by President Biden on January 25, 2021, were then held further due to the emergence of the infectious Delta strain that drove an increase in COVID-19 cases worldwide throughout the summer.

After today’s announcement, there seems to be good news on the horizon for those fully vaccinated international travelers who have been waiting to fly to the US. However, as noted by Walsh, the challenge remains in finding a system to manage the risks for travelers who do not have access to testing or vaccinations.

Featured image: JFK Airport. Photo: Kochan Kleps/Airways