International tourism and business travel is important to our economy. International visitors spent more than $181 billion in the United States in 2019, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. That total plummeted to just $42 billion in 2020, thanks to travel restrictions put in place during the pandemic. Hotels, restaurants and airlines would all benefit if travel were restored to prior levels, helping the economy recover.
It makes no sense for the United States to continue to restrict travel from the European Union, Britain and Canada (Canadians have been able to fly into the United States, but they are still not able to drive across the border). This is especially true since large numbers of people from those places are fully vaccinated. Britain and Canada have now vaccinated a higher percentage of their populations than the United States, and vaccination rates in the European Union are now roughly equal to those here. Data continue to show that fully vaccinated people are much less likely to contract or spread the virus, and those who do suffer far less serious illness than people without the vaccine. Allowing fully vaccinated foreigners from these countries thus poses little risk to Americans’ health.
The administration’s refusal to lift travel bans on foreigners while permitting vaccinated Americans to travel to these destinations is also hypocritical. Americans are flocking to Europe now that the region has reopened its borders. The United States discourages this travel, but it does not ban it and allows U.S. citizens to re-enter the country upon presentation of a negative covid-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure. There’s no medical reason why vaccinated Americans with a negative test can re-enter our country while vaccinated foreigners can’t.
This double standard also harms relations with our allies. They reopened their nations, often under pressure from the United States, despite lingering misgivings that doing so might endanger their citizens’ health while many remained unvaccinated. Now they take the risks — and gain crucial economic boosts — while their citizens remain barred from our country. That won’t help Biden as he tries to repair relations that were severely tested under former president Donald Trump.
This is especially true when it comes to our northern neighbor. Canadians accounted for roughly a quarter of all pre-pandemic spending by international visitors, and many of the economies in border communities rely on cross-border traffic. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had intended to keep the border closed until 75 percent of his country’s population was fully vaccinated, but he bent under pressure to allow vaccinated Americans to visit starting Aug. 9. The administration’s refusal to follow suit now means that Canadian border towns can start to recover but U.S. border cities can’t. How does that make any sense?
Biden’s stance makes even less sense when one considers that international travelers tend to visit places that already have high vaccination rates. The top five U.S. destinations for foreign travel in 2018 were New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, Orlando and San Francisco. Each of these places has a higher rate of adult vaccinations than the country as a whole, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. Keeping vaccinated foreigners from visiting relatively safe parts of the United States is utter lunacy.
Meanwhile, domestic travel is unregulated. Unvaccinated Americans can travel to other states without restriction or regulation, and they are doing just that as people try to get their lives back to normal. This flow surely does more to place lives and health at risk than letting vaccinated foreigners enjoy our country. No serious person wants to install domestic travel bans; the serious thing to do is to remove international ones.
Biden’s desire to protect Americans’ health is laudable. His refusal to reciprocate our allies’ move to resume tourism for vaccinated people is not.