After four months of deliberation on easing entry restrictions for foreign nationals in a calibrated manner, the Biden administration has finally decided to reopen the country to fully-vaccinated foreign travelers on November 8, 2021. The White House’s COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients announced the new international air travel system that makes the vaccination status of foreign visitors a brand new visa to America, where the world’s highest number of deaths has been reported in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Since January 2020, the White House imposed inbound travel restrictions on several countries, including China being the first and India being the latest. Currently, Indians, including B2 visa holders, who have been subject to the Presidential Proclamation 10199, are either seeking National Interest Exception or bypassing the US entry restrictions via a third country. The United States’ move to end travel restrictions for fully-vaccinated foreign visitors will relieve Indians of the hassles of applying for NIE approval or taking a 15-day stopover in Doha or Dubai.
For 18 months, Various Presidential Proclamations have restricted entry into the US for certain US visa holders who have been in India and Europe in 14 days prior to their planned travel to the US. However, from November 2021, fully-vaccinated foreign nationals will be able to enter the US without NIE approval and on condition of giving their consent to undergo testing and contact tracing on arrival.
The United States’ new international air travel system will require foreign nationals to carry a proof of vaccination and a negative report (with a QR code if travel originates in India) of the COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours prior to boarding. Fully-vaccinated international arrivals, Americans or non-Americans, will not be needed to undergo quarantine in the US.
What about children among foreign arrivals in the US? The White House’s new policy will have certain exceptions for children among foreign travelers, considering that few countries have approved vaccines for their younger population under 12-15 years. India has not yet rolled out vaccines for those under 18 years. Reportedly, India’s children with comorbidities in the 12-17 age groups will be inoculated starting in October 2021.
International airlines will be required to collect contact information of their USA-bound passengers traveling from or via the countries which have been subject to the Presidential Proclamations till date. It will help with contact-tracing of international arrivals in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a federal public health agency. In October, a directive on this will be issued to the airlines operating flights to USA from India, the UK and EU countries.
You must be wondering which vaccines will be acceptable for the entry of foreign citizens into the US. On October 8, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that the COVID-19 vaccines that the WHO has approved or listed for emergency use will be accepted as part of the criteria for restrictions-free travel to the United States. The WHO-approved COVID vaccines are Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, Janssen, Oxford/AstraZeneca, Covishield (India), Sinopharm (Beijing), and Sinovac. “Earlier this week, we informed airlines of the vaccines that would be accepted for arrival of foreign citizens,” the CDC added.
As the CDC approved the WHO-listed COVID vaccines, the Covishield-vaccinated Indians on B1/B2 and other US visas will be able to travel to the US without NIE approval or a 14-day stopover in a third country. Since Covaxin has still not been approved for emergency use by WHO, the Covaxin-inoculated Indians will continue to be subjected to the United States’ entry and travel restrictions. Canada, Qatar, UAE, Turkey, Kuwait and many European countries have already reopened to Covishield-vaccinated Indians.
President Biden’s new rules for international arrivals are equally stringent for unvaccinated US citizens returning to the country. Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated Americans will be given entry into the US, but they will have to take a COVID-19 test within 24 hours prior to boarding the departure flight and a test on arrival in the US.
With Canada and the UK allowing quarantine-free arrival of fully vaccinated travelers from the US, the White House considered following the suit. The American travel and tourism sector hit by the pandemic 10 times harder than 9/11 will help accelerate the pace of re-opening the country for fully vaccinated travelers from countries with a high COVID incidence, like India. Though American carriers are pinning their hopes for a rebound in air travel on lifting of the US’ entry restrictions, the Biden administration is sure not to open a Pandora’s Box by opening up at one go.
Reportedly, the White House has already held talks with airlines and international aviation regulators about how the policy of requiring foreign visitors to be vaccinated before their arrival will be implemented. The Biden administration is yet to specify what vaccination proof will be accepted from foreign arrivals and in what format, digital or print.