Biden administration extends Canadian travel ban
Michigan lawmakers in both major parties have criticized the move, which aims to prevent the spread of the coronavirus but delivers substantial negative economic impact for the state.
Michigan’s members of Congress expressed concern in recent weeks about the Biden administration’s decision to extend the ban on land travel from Canada into the U.S. This move threatens to further hamper Michigan’s struggling hospitality and tourism industry as it looks to recover from the pandemic.
The Department of Homeland Security announced on July 22 that the border closure, which generally prohibits “travel through the land ports of entry and ferry terminals along the United States-Canada border,” would continue at least through August 21. U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, as well as certain categories of essential personnel such as people traveling to work in the U.S., may still cross the border. But road trips “for tourism purposes (e.g., sightseeing, recreation, gambling, or attending cultural events)” remain explicitly barred. Meanwhile, air travel is permitted for any purpose.
Normally, Michigan’s tourism sector is a $25.7 billion-a-year industry, with the state welcoming millions of visitors, more than a million of whom are Canadians. “Canadian visitors are an absolutely important part of our Detroit economy,” said a spokesperson for the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They come here to shop, they come here for sports … and they come in droves.”
Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters questioned Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas at a hearing last Tuesday about the restrictions and their “serious” economic effects on Michigan. “We are mindful and monitoring every single day the economic impact of the travel restrictions,” Mayorkas said. “Our greatest priority is the health and welfare of the American people.”
Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids), Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Bruce Township), and Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Rochester Hills), among others, have all expressed concern about the border closure.
Michigan businesses are already under significant strain due to the COVID-19 pandemic and now find themselves struggling to hire enough workers, in part because of the expanded unemployment benefits provided by President Biden and congressional Democrats’ coronavirus relief law. To make matters worse, changes over recent years to the H-2B visa program have made it more difficult for the hospitality industry to hire seasonal foreign workers.
The Trump administration originally implemented the restrictions on travel across the Canadian and Mexican borders in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. When President Biden entered office, the new administration renewedthe bans. However, with vaccines now available, President Biden is facing increased pressure to rescind the restrictions and allow free movement of legal immigrants and tourists across the border.
Canada announced on July 19 that it would allow vaccinated Americans to enter Canada for non-essential travel beginning August 9 (although a possible labor strike may result in a delay), but the Biden administration has thus far refused to move up the date on which it will allow Canadians to enter America again.
While the economic effects of the border closure are significant, other consequences are more personal. On July 26, for instance, a Canadian citizen who lives in Windsor was denied permission to drive to Detroit in order to accompany his sick American girlfriend to medical tests in the city. Despite living only 20 miles apart, the cross-border couple has not met in person since before the pandemic. “It’s a two-tiered system, based on who can pay to fly and who can’t pay,” said Devon Weber, the founder of Let Us Reunite, an organization pushing to reopen the U.S.-Canada land border.
The Biden administration should lift the border restrictions immediately to allow vaccinated Canadians to enter the U.S. by land under the same rules that existed prior to the pandemic.