US reportedly developing plan requiring foreign visitors to be fully vaccinated

White House official cites concerns over the rampant spread of Delta variant

The Biden administration is reportedly developing a plan to require nearly all foreign visitors to the US to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 as part of eventually lifting travel restrictions that bar much of the world from entering the US, a White House official told Reuters on Wednesday.

The White House wants to re-open travel, which would boost business for the airlines and tourism industry, but is not ready to immediately lift restrictions because of the rising Covid-19 caseload and highly transmissible Covid-19 Delta variant, the official said.

The Biden administration has inter-agency working groups working “in order to have a new system ready for when we can reopen travel,” the official said, and added that it includes “a phased approach that over time will mean, with limited exceptions, that foreign nationals travelling to the United States (from all countries) need to be fully vaccinated.”

The US travel restrictions were first imposed on China in January 2020 by then-president Trump to address the spread of the coronavirus. Mr Trump then added Iran to the Covid-related travel ban. Numerous other countries have since been added by Mr Biden, most recently India in May.

The official's comments were the strongest signal to date that the White House sees a path to unwinding those restrictions.

Last month, Reuters reported that the White House was considering requiring foreign visitors to be vaccinated as part of discussions on how to relax travel restrictions.

The official added that the “working groups are developing a policy and planning process to be prepared for when the time is right to transition to this new system".

Some other countries, including Canada and the UK, are relaxing or lifting restrictions for vaccinated Americans to travel.

The White House has held discussions with airlines and others about how it would enact a policy of requiring vaccines for foreign visitors. There are other questions the Biden administration must answer, including what proof it would accept of vaccination and if the US would accept vaccines that some countries are using but which have not yet been authorised by US regulators.

Currently, the only foreign travellers allowed to cross by land into the US from Mexico and Canada are essential workers such as lorry drivers or nurses.

It was not clear how long the administration will maintain existing restrictions but the official said that infections “appear likely to continue to increase in the weeks ahead” and that “the United States will maintain existing travel restrictions at this point".

The US currently bars most non-US citizens who within the last 14 days have been in the UK, the 26 Schengen nations in Europe without border controls, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.

In some cases, the restrictions have separated loved ones and prevented some people working in the US from returning to home countries and still others from coming for employment.

Last week, Reuters reported the White House was discussing the potential of mandating Covid-19 vaccines for international visitors. The sources said no decisions have been made. The Biden administration has also been talking to US airlines in recent weeks about establishing international contact tracing for passengers before lifting travel restrictions.

Updated: August 4th 2021, 11:10 PM