U.S. Ban On Unvaccinated Travelers Remains, Despite CDC Guidance Update

U.S. Ban On Unvaccinated Travelers Remains, Despite CDC Guidance Update

As the world moves beyond the era of Covid restrictions, one hurdle remains for international travelers to the United States. Noncitizens wishing to travel to the U.S. must show proof of full vaccination against Covid-19 before boarding a flight to the U.S from another country. While this was the norm at the start of the year, the measure has now been abandoned by most countries.

The United States and Canada have set themselves apart from much of the world by continuing to require full vaccination for foreign visitors. This is in spite of the fact that the CDC recently stated that the “CDC’s COVID-19 prevention recommendations no longer differentiate based on a person’s vaccination status…”

What Restrictions Remain?

There aren’t restrictions for travel to the U.S. from a foreign country for U.S. citizens, nationals, and permanent residents. For everyone else, a single requirement remains; full vaccination against Covid-19. If not fully vaccinated, international travelers cannot board a flight coming to the United States. There are very few exceptions, most of which will not apply to travelers interested in visiting.

Why Are Travel Restrictions Still In Place?

The answer to this question is unclear. Most other countries in the world have dropped all Covid entry requirements, so what is taking the U.S. so long? Aside from the general trend of dropping requirements, there are several reasons the restriction doesn’t make much sense anymore.

  1. According to the CDC, passengers don’t need a booster dose to meet the requirement of being fully vaccinated. However, the CDC also states that the vaccines offer reduced protection over time without a booster. After about six months, antibodies begin to decline. Some who meet the definition of being fully vaccinated may have the same immunity levels as someone who is unvaccinated with immunity from previous Covid infection.
  2. The CDC’s own recommendations no longer distinguish between those who are vaccinated and those who are not. If this is the case, it would seem that it should follow that the U.S. should eliminate the ban on unvaccinated international arrivals.

What Are The Effects?

Unvaccinated foreigners interested in visiting the United States feel the effects of this restriction the most. Under the current restrictions, they have no way of coming into the States. However, they aren’t the only ones feeling the effects.

Recently, seventeen U.S. governors urged the President to get rid of the vaccination requirement for international travelers. In their letter, the governors pointed out that 72 other countries worldwide have eliminated vaccine and testing requirements. They also claimed that the restriction is doing damage to the economy.

To test their claim, we looked at the latest available international air arrival data and compared it to 2019. The latest data only shows international air arrivals between January and May 2022. During this time, the U.S. still required Covid tests for entry, further affecting travel recovery.

The Numbers

In 2019, there were 46,881,000 international air arrivals between January and May. In 2022, there were 37,435,000 international air arrivals in the same time period. Overall, there was approximately a 20% reduction in international air arrivals compared to 2019.

In 2019, the United States made $233.5 billion in revenue from international visitors. If we assume revenue is split evenly each month, the U.S. made $97.3 billion from January to May 2019. This would mean that the U.S. lost over $19 billion in tourism revenue from January to May of 2022 if we assume the 20% reduction in passengers translates to a 20% reduction in revenue.

For a smaller-scale, more up-to-date comparison, we also looked at the latest June data from the busiest airport in the U.S., Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. For half of June, international arrivals did not need to take a Covid test to gain entry into the United States.

In June 2019, there were 598,496 international arrivals; in June 2022, there were only 468,132. Total international arrivals decreased by almost 22%, following the same trend as our previous comparison. Time will tell if removing the testing requirement has led to a return to pre-pandemic levels, but that was not the case in Atlanta for the first month of its removal.

When Will Travel Go Back To Normal?

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), many countries are reaching their pre-pandemic numbers this year. But, the U.S. is not likely to recover fully until 2025. The United States’ decision to wait so long to get rid of testing requirements and decision to retain vaccination requirements are likely culprits in the slow revenue recovery.

According to data from the WTCC and ForwardKeys, bookings to the U.S. rose 93% after the scrapping of testing requirements. With all indications pointing toward getting rid of all entry requirements, why hasn’t the U.S. ended its ban on unvaccinated international travelers?

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