June 19, 2021

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Just Do Travel

US-UK Travel Restrictions Won’t Be Lifted Anytime Soon, Officials Say

4 min read
This past Thursday, May 20, the administrations of both President Joe Biden and Prime Minister...

This past Thursday, May 20, the administrations of both President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that no changes are set to be made to U.S.-U.K. travel policies anytime soon, according to a Forbes report.

Biden and his team have been in discussions with government and industry officials for the past month, trying to develop a plan that would grant vaccinated Europeans entry to the U.S., though no decision has yet been reached. While no official timeframe had been set, sources within the Biden administration had told CNBC it had been previously hoped that the U.S. might be able to lift the ban on travelers from the U.K. and the European Union (E.U.) by mid-May.

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Reopening from COVID-19

U.S. and U.K. administrations are under increasing pressure from travel sector organizations, businesses, unions and airlines to reopen Transatlantic travel to non-essential visitors, especially after the news broke earlier this week that the E.U. had approved a ruling that fully vaccinated tourists from outside the 27-nation bloc would be welcomed by summer.

Reacting to this news, U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow released a statement urging the U.S. government to follow the E.U.’s lead. “The European Union’s risk-based, science-driven plan to reopen international travel will hopefully spur the U.S. to heed the many calls for a plan and timetable to safely reopen our borders,” he wrote. “The right conditions are in place: vaccinations are increasing, infections are decreasing, all inbound visitors get tested or have to prove they’ve recovered, and it’s possible to determine vaccine status.”

“Vaccinated Americans can travel to other countries because E.U. governments know they’re essential tourism spenders and will safely support economic recovery,” Dow said. He also opined that there’s a “quid pro quo” element at play. “The U.S. is being left off the U.K. and E.U. safe list because we aren’t yet moving forward to let international visitors back in,” he argued.

Responding to the question of whether the U.S. planned to reciprocally grant entry to vaccinated European visitors, a White House spokesperson told Reuters during Wednesday’s news conference that “there were no changes in travel restrictions planned at the moment.”

At the same time, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg reportedly pointed out that any decision to loosen or lift restrictions is fundamentally a public health issue, and that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would therefore ultimately decide the question.


U.S. and U.K. passports on a vintage world map.
U.S. and U.K. passports on a vintage world map. (photo via iStock/Getty Images E+/belterz)

On the other side of the pond, since it’s no longer part of the E.U., the United Kingdom’s government also continues its deliberations about restrictions, even as the country was declared to have officially restarted foreign travel on May 17. Under the U.K.’s new “traffic light” system, the United States has been categorized as an “amber” country, which means anyone arriving from America (including returning residents) must undergo 10-day quarantine restrictions and take a series of COVID-19 tests.

The British government’s “green” list currently includes only a dozen countries. Despite the Prime Minister’s advice that Britons shouldn’t go to amber-list destinations unless absolutely necessary, 300,000 air travelers decided it was worth the risk when the ban on international trips from the U.K. was lifted this week. Health Secretary Matt Hancock, along with an Oxford University professor and a government vaccine advisor, also warned the public that “foreign holidays were a ‘very bad idea’ at the moment.”

To further complicate matters, the latest COVID-19 variant of concern coming out of India, a triple-mutant strain named B.1.617.2, has now gained a foothold in certain parts of the U.K., which seems likely to prevent it from making the E.U.’s forthcoming list of safe countries.

“The decision on Britain is now in doubt, which was not the case until recently when the U.K. numbers were good,” an E.U. diplomat said, according to The Telegraph. “There is trepidation that if the U.K. was put on the list now, it might have to be taken back off again next week because of the surge of the Indian variant.”

All of this led U.K. Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps to declare on Thursday “that Britain was in no rush to expand the green list of quarantine-free destinations because the country could not risk imported cases of Covid-19,” The National reported.