Vaccinated Americans may be able to begin traveling to Canada in 2½ weeks, but Canadians, whether they’re vaccinated or not, will not be allowed to cross the border into the U.S. for non-essential reasons for at least another month.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday, July 21, announced that it was extending its temporary restriction prohibiting non-essential cross-border travel from Canada through at least Aug. 21.
The extension, “unless amended or rescinded prior to” 11:59 p.m. Aug. 21 according to a Department of Homeland statement published Wednesday, means the U.S. will keep its border closed with Canada for a 17th month.
“Given the outbreak and continued transmission and spread of COVID-19 within the United States and globally, the secretary has determined that the risk of continued transmission and spread of the virus associated with COVID-19 between the United States and Canada poses an ongoing ‘specific threat to human life or national interests’,” the Department of Homeland Security statement read.
The statement went on to say: “Moreover, given the sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus, coupled with risks posed by new variants, returning to previous levels of travel between the two nations places the personnel staffing land ports of entry between the United States and Canada, as well as the individuals traveling through these ports of entry, at increased risk of exposure to the virus associated with COVID-19.
“Accordingly, and consistent with the authority granted in 19 U.S.C. 1318(b)(1)(C) and (b)(2),9 I have determined that land ports of entry along the U.S.-Canada border will continue to suspend normal operations and will only allow processing for entry into the United States of those travelers engaged in ‘essential travel’.”
The Homeland Security statement defined essential travel as American citizens and permanent residents returning to the U.S., those traveling for medical purposes, to attend educational institutions, those traveling for work, those traveling for emergency response or public health purposes, those traveling for cross-border trade, those involved in official government or diplomatic travel, members of the U.S. military and their families returning to the U.S.
Canada will reopen border Aug. 9
The U.S. announcement comes just two days after Canada announced it would open its border on Aug. 9 to vaccinated U.S. citizens to cross for purposes deemed non-essential, and it already has brought criticism.
“Today’s decision by the Biden administration harms economic recovery and hurts families all across America’s northern border; this is completely unnecessary,” U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins of New York said in a statement Wednesday morning.
“While the United States does nothing, loved ones remain separated and communities whose economies rely on the cross-border exchange continue to suffer economically. Continuation of this shutdown is illogical given the success of vaccines and counterproductive putting the United States at a disadvantage given Canada’s decision to welcome back vaccinated Americans effective Aug. 9th.”
The U.S. and Canada decided to close their border to non-essential travel in both directions in March of 2020 during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic in an effort to limit the spread of the disease.
Since then, the two countries had unilaterally extended that closure a month at a time, but this week’s announcements effectively will make the flow of non-essential travel between the two countries a one-way street.
Border communities wait
For months, many government officials from Washington state have been calling for the U.S. to open its northern border to help communities that have economies that depend on traffic from Canada.
“I’ve been calling for a safe plan to reopen the (emojis of the U.S. and Canada flags) border & help struggling border communities,” U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen of Washington tweeted only hours before Wednesday’s announcement. “News Canada plans to open the border to fully vaccinated U.S. residents on Aug. 9 is an important step, but there is more work to do, especially for unique places like Point Roberts.”
After Monday’s announcement by Canada, Gov. Jay Inslee tweeted, “Good news for both sides of the border as our state and British Columbia share so much. I’m glad our concerns have been heard and progress is happening. I will keep pushing as Washington border communities also need Canadians to be able to come to U.S.”
Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington in a tweet also called for the U.S. to “quickly follow suit” following Monday’s announcement.