By Sen. Susan M. Collins
At long last, the U.S.-Canada land border reopened Nov. 8 for fully vaccinated Canadians. For many Maine families and small businesses, this day was long awaited.
The U.S. and our ally Canada have a long history of cooperation, which is fortunate given that our two countries share the longest international border in the world. This relationship is especially important to Maine, where our Atlantic Canada neighbors often are friends and family. In addition, residents on both sides of the border regularly need to cross to reach stores, medical care, churches and other essential services.
These personal, social and economic connections were threatened by ongoing and unjustified restrictions on land travel to the U.S. from Canada. In March 2020, during the early days of the pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security imposed a temporary limit on Canadians entering the U.S. at land ports of entry for any reason other than “essential travel.” That month bans on air travel from certain foreign countries were also put in place.
I heard from many Mainers about the harm that the extended closure of America’s land border had on their families, such as a Canadian grandmother who was not able to attend two weddings for her grandchildren and another Canadian woman who was not able to visit her disabled brother in Maine. In addition, Maine small business owners, particularly in border communities, told me that they were losing significant revenue without their Canadian customers. Our hospitality businesses also experienced losses due to the absence of Canadian tourists.
I repeatedly pushed our government to adjust or reevaluate restrictions on travel across the U.S.-Canada border. In May, I participated in a call with U.S. senators and Canadian members of Parliament to discuss the importance of reopening the border. In July, I joined the rest of the Maine Delegation in urging Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas to take steps to allow fully vaccinated Canadians to cross the U.S.-Canada border for business or leisure given current health conditions.
In September, the Biden administration announced that fully vaccinated travelers who tested negative for COVID-19 would be able to enter the U.S. via air travel.
Inexplicably, however, the ban for travelers entering the U.S. for “nonessential” purposes via land was left in place.
It simply made no sense to allow vaccinated air travelers to come to the U.S. but not allow vaccinated Canadians to drive across the northern border. It was baffling that vaccinated Canadians could enter the U.S. by air but not by land.
This decision was also unneighborly since Canada, which has a high rate of vaccinations, began allowing U.S. citizens and permanent residents to enter their country for nonessential purposes, including tourism, in August.
After the administration’s announcement, I joined a coalition of senators from northern border states calling on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide medical justification for the continued ban on most travelers entering the country via land. We emphasized that we support efforts to curb the transmission of COVID-19, but we shared the concerns of our constituents and communities along the U.S.-Canada border who were being harmed by the restriction of nonessential travel at land border crossings.
Following this bipartisan advocacy, the administration finally reopened the U.S.-Canada land border. This long-overdue action will help to reunite tightknit border communities and provide a boost to Maine small businesses that suffered significant revenue losses without Canadian customers.