Joe Biden’s administration has taken the first step in easing pandemic travel bans in America by setting up working groups to discuss how to ease restrictions with the UK, EU, Mexico and Canada.
The White House said Tuesday it is hiring political teams made up of officials from five different parts of the U.S. government to decide when and how to allow non-citizens from the UK and the Schengen areas to enter and reopen the country borders on its immediate neighbors.
The restrictions have been in place since the early stages of the pandemic, but have come under fire from overseas governments and the travel industry as case numbers have declined in many countries and vaccination rates have increased.
A White House official said: “Recognizing the importance of travel to our citizens and their families, and the critical role trade relations and our transportation sectors play in our economies, the Biden administration is launching a series of expert working groups with four key partners: Canada , Mexico, the European Union and the UK to determine how best to safely reopen travel. “
The Trump administration imposed a series of travel bans early last year to help curb the spread of Covid-19.
According to these rules, any non-American who has been in the UK, Ireland, the Schengen area (which includes most of the EU members plus Norway, Switzerland and Iceland), China, South Africa, Iran or Brazil in the past 14 days is not allowed to enter the USA.
As one of his final acts, Donald Trump dropped these rules, but they were reinstated by Biden almost immediately after he became US President.
Biden has also added India to the list of Prohibited Countries.
The national borders with Canada and Mexico also have stayed closed for everyone who does not undertake essential trips.
The Travel Rules are some of the last remaining restrictions related to Covid-19 in the United States that: a quick vaccination campaign has cut case numbers to around 15,000 a day – a level not seen since March last year.
British officials in particular have urged easing measures, pointing out that their country’s per capita mortality rate has been lower than the US since February. UK representative said the Financial Times last week that they hoped to use this weekend’s G7 summit in Cornwall as an opportunity to advance their cause.
The global travel industry has also put pressure on the Biden administration to reopen the US borders, and demands by the White House have resisted, not least because Americans can still travel far outside the US, albeit in compliance with local quarantine restrictions .
Tuesday’s announcement was the first sign that rules could be relaxed this summer – although such cross-agency groups often take weeks to come up with specific proposals.
The five branches of government involved in the working groups are the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the state, homeland, health, and traffic agencies.