White House will open US land borders to vaccinated travelers

Announcement follows months of advocacy by border communities

Officers at the port of entry between the U.S. and Mexico in 2019.  (Jinitzail Hernández/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Officers at the port of entry between the U.S. and Mexico in 2019. (Jinitzail Hernández/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 12, 2021 at 11:03pm

The White House announced it will open U.S. land borders to fully vaccinated travelers in early November, ending more than a year of pandemic-related travel restrictions.

The requirements will apply to people crossing the Canadian and Mexican borders for nonessential purposes, such as visiting friends and family or tourism. The administration announced last month that air travelers to the U.S. will need to be fully vaccinated starting in November.

[Biden administration eases COVID-19 ban on international travel]

In a second phase of that plan, beginning January, all travelers — essential and nonessential — will need to show proof of vaccination to enter the U.S. from Canada or Mexico.

“Cross-border travel creates significant economic activity in our border communities and benefits our broader economy,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement issued late Tuesday. “We are pleased to be taking steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner.”

Mayorkas did not provide a specific date when the new measures will take effect. 

The announcement follows months of advocacy from border communities and the lawmakers who represent them, who argued that travel restrictions were weakening tourism economies and straining border communities.

“Strong vaccination rates in Canada made the continued border shutdown absurd and unjustifiable," said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., who has repeatedly pushed the Biden administration to reopen its land border with Canada.

“For months now we’ve heard from businesses that are suffering and families distraught over the separation imposed by the continued border shutdown. The sigh of relief coming from Northern Border communities following this announcement is so loud it can practically be heard on either end of the Peace Bridge."

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., also praised the announcement.

“The northern border is an indispensable economic partnership and ties our two nations together,” she said in a statement. “This reopening will be welcome news to countless businesses, medical providers, families, and loved ones that depend on travel across the northern border.”

Administration officials stressed that the new requirements apply to travelers with the proper paperwork who often spend short periods of time at ports of entry. Migrants who attempt to cross the border illegally will still be subject to related restrictions, including potential expulsion under Title 42, a Trump-era public health directive used to turn away most people at the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will manage enforcement of the policy at ports of entry, officials said.

The federal government has restricted cross-border travel between the U.S. and Canada since March 2020, allowing only “essential travel” over the northern land border. The restrictions were previously mutual, until Canada opened its side of the land border to vaccinated Americans in August.

Last month, Mayorkas dodged questions about the criteria used to justify keeping the nation’s northern land border closed to fully vaccinated Canadians.

Testifying on “threats to the homeland” before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Mayorkas suggested the fate of the northern border may be tied to that of the strict asylum and entry restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border, which has seen record-high migration levels.

On Wednesday, the committee's chairman, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., said he was glad to see the end of “significant disruptions and challenges for Michigan’s cross-border communities and binational families.”

Suzanne Monyak contributed to this report.