WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will lift travel restrictions starting in November for foreigners who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, reopening the country to thousands of people, including those who have been separated from family in the United States during the pandemic, and easing a major source of tension with Europe.
The halt to the 18-month ban on travel from 33 countries, including members of the European Union, China, Iran, South Africa, Brazil and India, could help rejuvenate a U.S. tourism industry that has been crippled by the pandemic. The industry suffered a $500 billion loss in travel expenditures in 2020, according to the U.S. Travel Association, a trade group that promotes travel to and within the United States.
In New York City alone, the lack of tourists wiped out 89,000 jobs and resulted in a loss of more than $60 billion in revenue, the state comptroller found.
“Everyone says New York is back, New York is back, but it’s not really back until tourists are back from all countries,” said Leyla Saleh, 28, a pastry chef whose father was forced to shut down his gift shop in midtown Manhattan last year because he did not have enough business.
Foreign travelers will need to show proof of vaccination before boarding and a negative coronavirus test within three days of coming to the United States, Jeffrey Zients, the White House pandemic coordinator, said Monday. Unvaccinated Americans who want to travel home from overseas will have to clear stricter testing requirements. They will need to test negative for the coronavirus one day before traveling to the United States and show proof that they have bought a test to take after arriving in the United States, Zients said.
The decision comes during a crucial week for President Joe Biden, who will give a speech Tuesday to the United Nations General Assembly and is under pressure from allies frustrated over the travel restrictions, the administration’s haphazard withdrawal from Afghanistan and a diplomatic feud with France.
France reacted with fury last week after being left out of a lucrative agreement to develop nuclear-powered submarines for Australia. Paris recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia and described the deal as a stab in the back.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the deal Friday with the French ambassador, Philippe Étienne, along with the travel ban, according to a senior State Department official, who said other allies had also expressed concerns about the restrictions. Those discussions helped inform the decision to lift the travel ban, the official said, asking for anonymity to describe sensitive talks.
“International travel is critical to connecting families and friends, to fueling small and large businesses, to promoting the open exchange of ideas and culture,” Zients said. “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.”
The changes announced Monday apply only to air travel and do not affect restrictions along the land border, Zients said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers people fully inoculated two weeks after they receive the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Those who have received vaccines listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization, such as the AstraZeneca vaccine, would also be considered fully vaccinated, according to a statement from Thomas Skinner, a CDC spokesperson.
The CDC will also issue an order directing airlines to collect phone numbers and email addresses of travelers for a new contact-tracing system. Authorities will then follow up with the travelers after arrival to ask whether they are experiencing symptoms of the virus.
Although the new rules open up travel for some, they shut it down for others.
Unvaccinated people will soon be broadly banned from visiting the United States even if they are coming from countries such as Japan, which have not faced restrictions on travel to America during the pandemic. The restrictions will create substantial complications for people who want to travel to the United States from countries where it is more difficult to get vaccinated, according to Willie Walsh, the director-general of the International Air Transport Association, a trade group of the world’s airlines.
Walsh said it was “critical that governments accelerate the global rollout of vaccines” and settle on “a global framework for travel where testing resources are focused on unvaccinated travelers.”
“We must get back to a situation where the freedom to travel is available to all,” he added.
The Trump administration began enforcing the bans against foreign travelers in January 2020 in the hopes of preventing the spread of the virus. The effort was largely unsuccessful, in part because U.S. citizens scrambling to return home encountered porous screenings at U.S. airports upon arrival.
Biden kept the restrictions on travelers from the European Union, Britain, India and other places, despite pleas from business leaders in need of profits from tourism, foreign workers who traveled overseas to renew visas to work in the United States only to be left stranded, and citizens left separated from their partners abroad.
The White House maintained that the restrictions were necessary, particularly after the spread of the highly contagious delta variant this summer fueled a rise of coronavirus cases and undermined the central theme of Biden’s presidency — vaccinating Americans and getting the pandemic under control.
No city in the United States felt the impact of the travel ban like New York, which had the highest share of overseas travel and drew more than 13.5 million foreign visitors in 2019. International arrivals fell by as much as 93% in 2020, according to data from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the area’s airports.
Zients cited the pace of vaccinations administered globally as a reason for the administration’s pivot Monday. The move also came on the eve of a visit by Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, who was expected to press Biden to lift the ban. British officials had hoped the president would announce a relaxation of restrictions when he went to England in June for the Group of 7 summit and were disappointed when he did not.
Their frustration has only deepened.
British officials noted that the United States had not imposed a similar ban on people from Caribbean nations, which had a higher rate of infection than Britain, or from Argentina, where a lower percentage of the population was vaccinated. About 82% of people in Britain older than 16 have had two shots.
Britain and several EU countries allow fully vaccinated people from the United States to travel without quarantining, and officials there were annoyed when the United States did not reciprocate. The EU has since reversed itself, and issued a recommendation to its members to put more restrictions on American travelers.
“It’s a fantastic boost for business and trade, and great that family and friends on both sides of the pond can be reunited once again,” Johnson said in a tweet.
)The ban, European officials point out, has kept families separated since early 2020, when the coronavirus was erupting across Europe. European countries have weathered a third wave of infections propelled by the delta variant. But in several countries, including Britain, infection rates have begun to level off and even decline.
British newspapers played up the fact that the parents of Emma Raducanu, the British woman who won the U.S. Open tennis tournament, could not travel to New York to watch her play.
Europe is the largest market for passenger flows to and from Britain, according to the International Air Transport Association, but North America is the second biggest, accounting for 10.1 million passengers.
Constantin Film, one of Germany’s biggest production and distribution companies, is based in Munich and has an office in Los Angeles, according to the company’s CEO, Martin Moszkowicz.
During the 18 months of the travel ban, the company’s investment in the U.S. economy “was basically zero,” Moszkowicz said. The company had to move the production of two feature films and one show to Canada and South Africa, he said.
For many, the travel ban meant losing time with family.
“I am trying not to cry because it’s such a beautiful day,” said Giovanni Vincenti, 42, an Italian professor who lives in Baltimore. Vincenti’s daughter, who was born last May, has never met her grandparents because of the travel restrictions.
Cristina Garbarino, 55, a babysitter in Genoa, Italy, said the travel ban put on hold her visa and her plan to get married, and kept her apart from her fiancé, who lives in New Hampshire, for almost two years.
“At my age, I don’t have much time to lose,” she said, “and I lost two years like this.”