Major US media publisher, Reuters, is reporting that the Biden administration is working on a plan to require nearly all foreign visitors to the United States to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

In an exclusive news report, Reuters says it received confirmation from a White House official that this is part of efforts to eventually lift travel restrictions that bar much of the world from entering the United States.

According to Reuters report, the official said: “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 case load and highly transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant.” 

The Reuters report notes that the Biden administration has interagency working groups working to have a new system ready for when the US reopens for travel.

“This includes a phased approach that over time will mean, with limited exceptions, that foreign nationals traveling to the United States (from all countries) need to be fully vaccinated,” Reuters quotes the White House official.

At present, some countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom, are relaxing or lifting restrictions for vaccinated Americans to travel.

The Reuters report says the White House has been discussing with airlines and others about how best to implement a policy of requiring vaccines for foreign visitors.  The Biden administration is expected to clarify several issues, including what proof it would accept of vaccination, and if the United States would accept vaccines that some countries are using but which have not yet been authorized by U.S. regulators.

Currently, the United States bars most non-U.S. citizens who within the last 14 days have been in the United Kingdom, the 26 Schengen nations in Europe without border controls, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.

Reuters observes that previous White House interagency talks had focused on requiring vaccines for nearly all foreign visitors arriving by air.  

However, the White House official did not indicate to Reuters whether the administration is developing plans to also require visitors arriving from Mexico and Canada to be vaccinated before crossing land borders.  Currently, the only foreign travellers allowed to cross by land into the United States from Mexico and Canada are essential workers such as truck drivers or nurses.

Reuters also reports the Biden administration is yet to say if it will maintain existing restrictions, but quoted the official, thus: “Infections appear likely to continue to increase in the weeks ahead…  The United States will maintain existing travel restrictions at this point.”

The Reuters report also points to Industry officials who believe it will be at least weeks and potentially months before restrictions are lifted.

[Original report from Reuters by David Shepardson, with Editing by Chris Reese and David Gregorio]