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October 13, 2021

US to lift Canada border restrictions next month

Border crossing at Lubec, Maine File Photo / Jim Neuger Cars are shown entering the United States in August 2019 at Lubec, as they come off the bridge from Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada.

The U.S. next month will lift entry restrictions for visitors from Canada and Mexico who are entering for tourism and other nonessential purposes, as long as the travelers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced on Monday.

Under the plan, individuals from the countries concerned that have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and have appropriate documentation to enter the United States will be allowed to cross the border via land and port entry points.

“In alignment with the new international air travel system that will be implemented in November, we will begin allowing travelers from Mexico and Canada who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to enter the United States for nonessential purposes, including to visit friends and family or for tourism, via land and ferry border crossings,” said Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security.

“Cross-border travel creates significant economic activity in our border communities and benefits our broader economy," he added. "We are pleased to be taking steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner.”

Gov, Janet Mills, who in August launched a $10 million economic recovery grant program for certain businesses and organizations within a 25-mile driving distance of the U.S.-Canada crossings, welcomed the announcement as an overdue step forward.

"For too long, the closed border with our Canadian neighbors has made it difficult, if not impossible, for cross-border families to see one another, and it has strained our local small businesses and our state’s tourism industry," she said in a Wednesday statement. "I applaud the administration for heeding my call and that of Maine’s congressional delegation by reopening the border with Canada in a safe way.”

Two-step plan

The border reopening plan includes modifying Title 19 regulations governing customs and duties in two phases. 

Initially, in November, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will begin allowing fully vaccinated travelers from Mexico or Canada to enter the United States at land and ferry points of entry for nonessential reasons.

Travelers will be required to have show proof of vaccination, while individuals who have not been fully vaccinated for COVID019 will not be allowed to enter the United States for nonessential purposes.

Then in early January 2022,  the Department of Homeland Security will require that all inbound foreign national travelers crossing U.S. land or ferry points of entry — whether for essential or nonessential reasons — be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and provide related proof of vaccination.

The department said the phased approach will provide ample time for essential travelers including truckers, students and health care workers to get vaccinated, and that the new system will create create consistent, stringent protocols for all foreign nationals traveling to the United States.

The land border between the United States and Canada was closed on March 21, 2020, at the start of the pandemic, complicating life for families, tourists and businesses, particularly in northern Maine towns like Lubec, a popular  tourism destination connected by bridge to Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada, and the Aroostook County town of Houlton.

Further complicating travel between the two countries, the CAT high-speed ferry from Bar Harbor to Nova Scotia has been out of service during the pandemic but is due to resume service next spring.

'Fantastic news for Mainers'

Maine's two senators welcomed the reopening plan in separate statements.

"It's good to see the White House creating a consistency in travel policy, allowing vaccinated Canadians to drive across the northern border weeks after we began allowing vaccinated Europeans to visit the U.S. via air," said U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine. "Bottom line: This action by the White House will reconnect friends and families, and help stabilize local economies that rely on cross-border neighbors for business — a welcome action, especially as the holiday season approaches."

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said, “Today’s long-overdue announcement is fantastic news for Mainers who have deeply missed having their Canadian relatives at holiday celebrations, family functions, and other milestone events. As a native of Aroostook County, I know all too well how many families have ties on both sides of the border, and they were separated for far too long. 

“This is also a welcome development for Maine small businesses that have suffered significant revenue losses without Canadian customers, and it will provide a boost to Maine’s hard-hit hospitality industry, which has been harmed by the absence of Canadian tourists."

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