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White House ‘expert’ groups will look at easing international travel restrictions

White House Covid-19 Response Team will lead expert groups to develop a strategy for reopening the country

Passengers check their luggage at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport last month. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

The White House will form “expert” working groups to help determine when to lift rules that ban travelers from coming to the United States from certain countries, a White House official said Tuesday.

The groups will be led by the White House Covid-19 Response Team and the National Security Council. They will include representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Transportation.

The groups also will include partners from Canada, Mexico, the European Union and the United Kingdom, according to a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the plans.

News of the working groups was first reported by Reuters.

The formation of the groups is a signal that despite pressure from the travel industry, the administration is taking a measured approach to lifting international restrictions, some of which have been in place since March 2020.

For months, a coalition of travel groups has been pushing to end restrictions that bar most foreign visitors from coming to the United States, even as other countries have opened their borders to Americans. France was the latest to reopen to those who are fully vaccinated.

Several countries are reopening to international travelers. The U.S. travel industry fears being left behind.

The coalition, led by the U.S. Travel Association and Airlines for America, argues that the nation has made significant strides in fighting the virus and that other measures, including requirements that international travelers show proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding U.S.-bound flights and wear masks on airplanes and in airports, are enough to ensure the safe reopening of travel.

Under current restrictions, most foreign nationals who have been in the United Kingdom, several European Union countries, Brazil and China in the previous 14 days are not permitted to enter the United States. India was added to the list last month.

Even as domestic travel has rebounded — the Transportation Security Administration reported Sunday it screened nearly 2 million people, the most since the pandemic began — the industry says a full recovery will remain elusive without international visitors. The U.S. Travel Association estimates that $262 billion in export spending and 1.1 million jobs could be lost this year if the ban is not lifted.

But the administration has resisted those calls, emphasizing that science — not economics — will drive any decision to reopen. The White House official said decisions will be guided by objective analysis and recommendations by public health and medical experts.