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Why the U.S. might not open up to international travelers any time soon

By Ted Hesson

The U.S. government largely shut down international travel to the United States in March with a series of rapid-fire moves, but restarting it will likely be a longer, more piecemeal process that could be complicated by rising tensions with China.

Even as President Donald Trump pushes for U.S states to begin reopening their economies, U.S. borders remain shut to travelers from China and Europe.

Any decision on easing travel restrictions will depend in large part on what safety protocols all countries put in place to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus and whether those countries in turn grant entry to Americans, U.S. officials told Reuters.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said last week that Trump and U.S. health officials were examining the issue of international travel but did not provide further details.

Trump implemented a temporary ban on most travelers coming from China, the source of the novel coronavirus outbreak, in January and put similar restrictions on travelers from Europe in March. The United States also halted nonessential travel across its shared borders with Canada and Mexico in March and suspended routine visa services in most U.S. consulates abroad.

Some U.S. airlines would like to resume limited service to China - a major market for them - in June, but the possibility of the Trump administration lifting travel restrictions will be complicated by China’s own restrictions on foreign carriers, according to a senior U.S. official who requested anonymity to discuss the matter.

China limits foreign airlines to one flight into the country per week, and planes are only allowed to fly with 75% of passenger capacity.

Domestic politics may also influence which countries' travelers are first granted renewed access to the United States. While a nationwide regime of screening, testing and quarantine has vastly reduced the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in China, Trump and top aides have questioned the accuracy of information from China, angering Beijing.

China reported a far lower death toll from the virus than the United States and other hard-hit countries. It has denied allegations that it has suppressed important data.

A senior Department of Homeland Security official said DHS questions the accuracy of coronavirus-related information coming from Beijing but stressed that the United States could use its own intelligence to make a decision about travel restrictions.

The official also said U.S. business ties with China would factor in to any decision about whether to lift the restrictions.


The discussions within the Trump administration on how and when to reopen the United States to international travel have not yet crystallized into a plan, U.S. officials said, as the situation is still fluid and there are still fears of a resurgence of the virus in countries now reporting lower caseloads.

But Washington is clear on one thing - people from other countries should not be allowed into the United States if Americans still are not allowed to travel to those nations, the senior U.S. official said.

However, with the virus still rampant in the United States, which has the highest number of cases in the world, some countries may be hesitant to accept U.S. travelers any time soon.

The European Union on Wednesday pushed to reopen internal borders and restart travel, but recommended Europe’s external borders remain closed for most travel at least until mid-June.

While there has been some talk in the administration of reopening borders to travelers from Europe first, officials are mindful that many of the initial infections in the United States originated in Italy.

“I think coordination between governments is going to be key,” Virginia Messina, managing director with the World Travel and Tourism Council, said. “You are going to need those bilateral agreements.”

When the United States restricted travel from Europe it was effectively a blanket ban. Unwinding that ban and replacing it with agreements with individual European countries could be a much longer process.

Lifting the restrictions will also require a series of choreographed steps by different U.S. government agencies.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State Department will need to dial back travel advisories calling for Americans to avoid all international travel before the United States can allow in travelers from restricted countries, according to Lora Ries, a senior research fellow with the Heritage Foundation and former Trump administration homeland security official.

The blanket advisory is likely to be replaced by more country-specific warnings, depending on the state of the pandemic in the relevant countries or region.

Restoring the flow of travelers into the United States could help boost the economy in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak. The Washington-based U.S. Travel Association estimated that spending by international travelers supported 1.2 million U.S. jobs and $33.6 billion in wages in 2019, economic activity that has been wiped out by the pandemic.

But the priority is to restore confidence in U.S. domestic air travel before turning attention to international travel, said Tori Emerson Barnes, an executive vice president with the U.S. Travel Association, a pro-industry nonprofit organization.

“I think that it will be a slow opening, unfortunately,” she said.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

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This article seems to be written from the wrong perspective. The real question is not when the United States will open up to other countries. Given the chaotic and catastrophic failure of the response of the USA to its Covid-19 epidemic, the real question is when other countries should open up to travellers from the United States.

Same applies to the UK, France, Spain, Sweden, to name just a few.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

I was going to say what BigYen said. Most countries have more to fear from travelers from America, than Americans have to fear from travelers from other countries. Putin must be so happy with his investment in Trump.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

It's interesting that the jobs program called the TSA is still a jobs program for the otherwise unemployable. 96% drop in passengers, but TSA standing around doing nothing but collecting paychecks. Same thing with all of the immigration and customs people.

Over 30 million of people in the US have been laid off, but millions of government workers are sitting at home pretending to work and none are losing a paycheck. More than half of the households in the US now work for the government, are government contractors or work for companies that selling something to the government.

This was the goal of Soviet-style communism and it seems to be working now in the US.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

TSA are some of the most self-entitled and rude people you can meet. The question isn't when US might open, but do people want to go there.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Well, some of us are wondering when Japan will open back up. A 14-day quarantine period is hefty if you want to go to somewhere beyond the few international airport cities. I don't see the Trump administration working earnestly to get foreign destinations to ease up on restrictions for Americans; I expect the administration would rather have Americans traveling and spending money inside the United States (and sharing Covfefe-19 domestically).

1 ( +1 / -0 )

(and sharing Covfefe-19 domestically).

Thanks, Roten. I hadn't seen that one before. Maybe I don't get out enough (lockdown joke) :)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

No offense to Americans but I’ve never wanted to visit.America seen from afar is enough for me...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

America is one of the greatest countries to visit. From snow capped moutains to deserts. Everything can be found. American are also one of the most friendly to be around.

I have had so great trips there.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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