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Starting in November, DHS to Replace Current Canada/Mexico Border Restrictions with COVID Vaccination Requirements

Starting in November 2021, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will implement a two-phase plan to allow foreign nationals to enter the United States through Canada and Mexico land border and ferry travel if they have been fully vaccinated with an approved COVID-19 vaccine. The first phase of the plan will replace the current ban on “non-essential travel,” which has been in effect since March 2020. The second phase will impose vaccine requirements on all foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States, including those entering for “essential” purposes like business and work travel. The phases of the new policy will be:

  • November 2021: In alignment with implementation of the upcoming international air travel vaccination requirements, fully vaccinated foreign nationals from Canada and Mexico will be able to enter the United States for “non-essential” purposes such as tourism or personal visits with family and friends.
  • January 2022: All inbound foreign national travelers entering the United States from Canadian or Mexican land (or ferry) borders – whether entering for “essential” or “non-essential” purposes – must be fully vaccinated in order to enter the United States. This includes those traveling for work and business who are currently permitted to travel (though perhaps with heightened border official questioning) under the existing border restrictions.

Full, official details of the new international travel vaccination policies – including specific start dates, potential exceptions, and information on what vaccines and documentation will be accepted – have not yet been released. With respect to the international air travel vaccination requirements to be implemented in November, several recent news reports have quoted a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spokesperson stating that only vaccines approved or authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization (WHO) will be accepted under the new vaccination policy.  However, we await further detail and confirmation of the requirements for both the new international air travel policy and the new land border/ferry travel vaccination policy.

Current status of Canada and Mexico border travel restrictions

Current restrictions on “non-essential travel” via land or ferry from Canada and Mexico remain in effect through October 21, 2021 and are expected to be extended until the implementation date of the new border policy in November 2021. 

What the new policy will mean for employers and foreign national employees

Under existing restrictions, land border and ferry travel for work and business has been generally considered “essential” and therefore permitted. Starting in January 2022, however, foreign nationals traveling to the United States for work and business, including those traveling on H, L, O, and B visas and under the Visa Waiver Program, will be required to show full COVID vaccination in order to enter the United States after land or ferry travel. Until specific policy implementation dates and details are issued by the U.S government, concrete travel planning may be difficult, but obtaining an available vaccine in the coming months may prevent foreign national travel delays in the new year.

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