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October 13, 2021 10:00 AM, EDT

US to Reopen Land Borders With Canada, Mexico for Vaccinated Travelers

Borders Drivers wait in line on the Rainbow International Bridge at the Canadian border crossing in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. (Cole Burston/Bloomberg News)

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The United States will relax coronavirus restrictions at its land borders with Canada and Mexico for vaccinated travelers next month, allowing for the resumption of nonessential travel like tourism.

The changes, announced by members of New York’s congressional delegation, come after the White House previously announced its intention to begin allowing airline passengers from a broad swath of countries — including Canada, Mexico and Europe — to enter the country with proof of vaccination and a coronavirus test in early November.

The changes are expected to invigorate international travel before the holiday season, and the announcement addresses complaints by those living in border communities that the U.S. was imposing different rules for those traveling by air than for those driving to see friends and family.

“This reopening will be welcome news to countless businesses, medical providers, families and loved ones that depend on travel across the northern border,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, said in a statement.

The new policy will end restrictions on nonessential travel that were first implemented in March 2020, though Americans were not restricted from returning home. The new standard will also apply to cross-border ferry travel.

Other details of how the program will work must still be finalized, according to senior administration officials who requested anonymity to preview the changes to the Department of Homeland Security policy.

In addition to not yet setting a firm date in November for nonessential travel to resume, officials have not yet decided how they will handle instances of travelers from Mexico and Canada who have vaccine doses from two different manufacturers. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has yet to come to a final determination on how to handle travelers who received the AstraZeneca PLC vaccine, which is not yet approved in the U.S. but was distributed in both Mexico and Canada.

The U.S. expects to announce those decisions soon, the officials said. But those crossing the border by land won’t be required to produce a negative coronavirus test as air travelers must. And while border agents will ask all travelers to attest to their vaccine status, travelers driving across the border may only be required to produce documentation during spot checks.

The vaccine requirement also will not immediately affect those already permitted to cross land borders for essential travel, including medical treatment, traveling to work or school, or trade. Those individuals will have until January before the vaccine requirement impacts them – a provision designed to allow truck drivers and other essential workers time to get vaccinated, the U.S. officials said.

The U.S. also hasn’t detailed what paperwork would be required to prove vaccination status, or said how the processes may differ for those traveling by land versus by air.

The changes are likely to be welcome news in border communities that have seen economic decline as travelers were restricted from moving back and forth across international lines. The restrictions have affected casinos and duty-free businesses.

The changes are separate from an administration policy used to expel migrants crossing the border illegally. The policy change also will not affect Americans seeking to travel by road to Canada or Mexico. Canada removed its restrictions on non-essential travel for vaccinated Americans late in the summer, and Mexico did not impose legal restrictions on passengers entering from the north.

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