The United States will end all remaining COVID-19 travel requirements at the end of the day on May 11, 2023, the same day the government-designated COVID-19 public health emergency ends, the White House said in a statement on Monday.
That means starting May 12, international travelers coming into the USA, whether by air, land, or sea, will no longer have to present proof of vaccination against the coronavirus.
Vaccine requirements had been put in place for international travelers “to slow the spread of new variants entering the country and to allow our healthcare system time to effectively manage access to care if faced with an increase in cases and hospitalizations,” the White House statement said. “We are now in a different phase of our response when these measures are no longer necessary.”
In January 2021, the Biden Administration announced that negative COVID-19 test results would be necessary to enter the country for both U.S. citizens and noncitizens. That rule lasted until June 2022, but the vaccination requirement for foreign travelers, which was implemented by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in November 2021, remained.
There has been mounting pressure for the Biden Administration to do away with the restrictions, both from travel industry groups, like the U.S. Travel Association, which said keeping the policy in place was “putting at risk valuable visitor spending,” and from lawmakers such as Representatives Thomas Massie and Ken Calbert (Republicans from Kentucky and California, respectively), who introduced a bill to terminate the requirement in February.
Repealing the restriction will make it easier for foreign travelers to visit the U.S. and therefore “make the country more competitive for tourism,” Tori Barnes, EVP of public affairs and policy at the U.S. Travel Association told AFAR. She added that it’ll be helpful for streamlining entry into the country just in time for what is expected to be an extremely busy summer travel season.
“Today’s action to lift the vaccine requirement eases a significant entry barrier for many global travelers, moving our industry and country forward,” Geoff Freeman, U.S. Travel Association president and chief executive, said in a statement. “However, the return of international visitors should be as efficient and secure as possible. The federal government must ensure U.S. airports and other ports of entry are appropriately staffed with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers to meet the growing demand for entry.”
Currently, average visa wait times for first-time visitors to the U.S. are more than a year, Barnes said, adding that the delay will cost the U.S. travel industry an estimated $7 billion in 2023. The U.S. Travel Association has also noted increasing wait times during customs controls upon entering the United States, which Barnes said is concerning.
“If folks are forced to wait two or three hours in line, they may think twice about returning here and they’re most certainly going to tell their friends and family about their experience,” Barnes said. “We’re calling on Congress to appropriate additional dollars to increase staffing at CBP.”
Until May 12, international travelers who aren’t fully vaccinated (booster shots aren’t needed to meet the requirements) will still be barred from entering the United States.
While many countries throughout the world have dropped their pandemic-era entry requirements, there are still a handful of countries with coronavirus-related travel restrictions. Kenya and Brazil, for instance, continue to require travelers to show proof of either COVID-19 vaccination or have a negative PCR or antigen test before they’re allowed in.