The US is finally close to lifting its Covid-19 travel bans for vaccinated foreigners

Waiting for business.
Waiting for business.
Image: Reuters/Kate Munsch
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More than a year and a half after Donald Trump imposed Covid-19 travel bans (first on China, then on Europe and the UK), the US is finally getting ready to relax its restrictions, according to Reuters.

The ban won’t be lifted immediately, as delta variant case counts continue to rise around the world, but there finally seems to be a path toward allowing foreign visitors from currently banned countries into the US—provided they are vaccinated.

According to Reuters’ source, the White House is working to reopen the US on 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.”

What are the requirements to travel to the US?

The Covid-19 ban currently restricts entry to travelers who have spent the previous 14 days in China, Iran, the UK, Ireland, Brazil, or the European Schengen area. Citizens and green card holders traveling from those locations are still allowed in the country, as are individuals possessing a National Interest Exception, which includes students traveling to attend the school year in the US.

Tourists and holders of other US visas, including those who have long-term work permits, who pay taxes in the US, must also spend 14 days outside countries on the list before being allowed in the US.

In order to enter the US from the banned countries, foreigners need to stop in a third country—such as Mexico, or Canada—for two weeks prior to entry to the US. However, as the list of banned countries changes regularly, there is no guarantee that the chosen stop won’t itself be banned.

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Since the countries on the list don’t actually reflect the ones where Covid-19 infections are higher, and include Europe, which has the highest vaccination rates after the US, pressure to end or relax the ban is strong. The aviation and tourism industry has been pushing to lift the ban for months, and so have leaders including German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

The EU has been allowing travel from the US (with proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test) for over a month.

The curious case of Europe

The logic behind the current ban is highly debatable, as it applies to countries with low transmission rates but leaves out places like Turkey, or many Latin American countries, where cases have been surging. But things are especially curious when it comes to Europe.

The ban doesn’t apply to all EU countries, but only to those that are part of the Schengen area (with the addition of Ireland and the UK), which means EU members such as Croatia, Bulgaria, or Romania, and European countries that aren’t EU members—including most Balkan countries, which are sandwiched between Schengen members—are open for direct travel to the US, while their neighbors are not.

The most intriguing case is Andorra. The tiny state between Spain and France is theoretically open for direct travel to the US—even though its only airport is located on Spanish territory.