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U.S. to open land borders with Canada, Mexico to vaccinated foreign travelers Nov. 8

The U.S. plans to lift travel restrictions for vaccinated foreign travelers starting Nov. 8, including at the land borders with Canada and Mexico, a White House official said Friday.

The Canada-United States of America border in the Windsor Tunnel.

The move means Michigan's border with Canada will reopen in more than three weeks to people traveling to the U.S. by land or by ferry for non-essential reasons, as tourists or to visit friends and family for the first time since March 2020.

Travelers crossing U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico for non-essential reasonswill be required to present proof of vaccination to a Customs and Border Protection officer upon request. 

"The US’ new travel policy that requires vaccination for foreign national travelers to the United States will begin on Nov 8," White House Assistant Press Secretary Kevin Munoz posted to Twitter Friday. "This announcement and date applies to both international air travel and land travel. This policy is guided by public health, stringent, and consistent."

By January, foreign nationals traveling across the land border for both essential and non-essential reasons will be required to be fully vaccinated.

For those traveling by air, vaccinated travelers will still have to show a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days prior to boarding.

The White House said further guidance will be forthcoming on the limited exceptions to the U.S. vaccination requirements, as well as what records will be accepted as proof of vaccination.

Earlier this week, officials noted that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention informed airlines that all Food and Drug Administration-approved and authorized vaccines, as well as vaccines listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization, will be accepted for the purposes of air travel.

The White House anticipates the same guidelines would be enforced at the land border.

The policy change follows months of complaints from lawmakers, local officials and separated families on both sides of the border left frustrated by the 19-month border closure, especially since Canada reopened its border to vaccinated U.S. travelers more than two months ago.

U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, a Holland Republican who co-chairs the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group, said this week the policy change is a step in the right direction but "it is not enough, and more needs to be done to ease travel."

He wants the Biden administration to consider proof of a negative PCR test and those with natural immunity to be allowed to enter the United States next month, as well. 

"Both of these common-sense measures would be an improvement over the free-for-all currently happening along our Southern border on Joe Biden’s watch," Huizenga said.

U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, a New York Democrat and co-chair of the Northern Border Caucus, wrote to the CDC this week seeking clarification about whether the agency will consider Canadians cleared to travel if they are among those in the country that received mixed doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, including the AstraZeneca vaccine that is not approved by the CDC for use in the United States. 

Higgins noted that nearly 4 million Canadians, the equivalent of 10% of Canada's fully vaccinated population, have received mixed doses of the available mRNA COVID-19 vaccines and urged the agency to swiftly provide guidance on the matter. 

"The prospect of millions of Canadian travelers being indefinitely denied access to the United States because they received mixed doses of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine is deeply concerning," Higgins said. 

"After more than 19 months of separation, border communities are desperate to reunite with their loved ones in Canada and the United States. Our livelihoods and way of life depend on the free flow of goods, services, and people across the border — often multiple times per day.”

The Biden administration said this week that Customs and Border Protection agents will oversee enforcement of the vaccination requirement at the land and ferry ports of entry.

That will include seeking attestations of vaccination status and spot-checking travelers for verification of vaccination status, either by paper documentation or digital means.

A CBP officer will question non-essential travelers about their vaccination status and, based on the officer's discretion, some travelers will be sent to a second officer to have their documents checked, officials said.

In announcing the changes, senior Biden administration officials this week indicated a desire to have a consistent approach to land and air entry into the U.S.

They also stressed the growing number of vaccinated people — nearly 263 million across the U.S., Canada and Mexico — with vaccination coverage continuing to increase in all three countries.

For months, Canada has been ahead of the U.S. in vaccinations, with 76% of its population fully vaccinated and 87% of those 12 and older, through Oct. 2. That's compared with 57% of the U.S. population that's fully vaccinated and 67% of those 12 and older, according to the CDC. 

mburke@detroitnews.com