The Biden administration wants to ease travel restrictions and lift controversial a travel ban on foreign visitors from the United Kingdom and European Union by requiring nearly all international visitors to be fully vaccinated.
White House sources told Reuters that President Biden wants to reopen international travel to provide a boost for the tourism and airline industries, as well as the wider economy. But the President isn’t yet ready to lift the 212(f) travel restrictions while plans to only let fully vaccinated visitors in are finalised.
Last week, Biden disappointed EU officials by refusing to lift the Trump-era ban citing Delta variant concerns. The Delta variant is already the dominant strain across Europe and is leading to a surge in new cases and hospitalisations in the United States.
On Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen called on the U.S. to lift the travel ban within “weeks”. Europe unilaterally reopened to American citizens back in June and Von Der Leyen insisted there should be “comparable rules for travelers in both directions.”
A proposal to make the United States only accessible to fully vaccinated foreign travelers would effectively be a compromise solution that would give Biden the necessary justification to lift the travel ban while also allaying fears at home.
It’s now known, however, whether the policy could also be extended to American citizens who are currently free to travel regardless of their vaccination status. The risk of ‘breakthrough’ infections even amongst fully vaccinated travelers means the requirement to get a pre-departure COVID-19 test would likely remain.
The White House source told Reuters that the new policy would be “a phased approach that over time will mean, with limited exceptions, that foreign nationals traveling to the United States (from all countries) need to be fully vaccinated.”
That means that the policy could be used to reopen international travel to Europe’s Schengen zone, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom while maintaining bans on several other countries.
Existing travel ban restrictions also affect Brazil, India and South Africa, as well as China and Iran.
Critics have ridiculed the 212(f) travel restrictions because they don’t prevent Americans traveling to and from the United States and potentially bringing back new COVID-19 variants. Nor does the travel ban stop travelers from countries with much higher infection rates and lower vaccine takeup entering the U.S.
On Wednesday, new rumours started circulating that the U.S. could lift the restrictions by next month. Sources have been frequently wrong when trying to guess when the ban might finally be lifted and a lot could change within the coming weeks.
In June, the White House agreed to set up working groups with the UK and EU, as well as Canada and Mexico to discuss how to lift reopen international travel. An official said talks were still underway on how to ease the restrictions “when the time is right”.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.