US reverses Trump era ban on Europeans – what it means

Over the coming weeks two of us on the SimpliFlying team will be travelling to the USA.

Both of us live in the UK, and so all things being equal should carry a similar level of risk, especially as both of us are vaccinated.   

However, while I’ll be able to enter the US freely on condition of taking a negative antigen test, my colleague Stephanie Taylor is having to fill in forms and apply for special dispensation.

Why? Because despite living here for most of my life I’m a dual US / UK citizen, and the USA has always allowed citizens back without too many restrictions.

But Stephanie holds a UK passport, and is having to work under the executive order first introduced by Donald Trump in March 2020, largely banning the entry of EU and UK visitors.

Similarly, my American expat (but UK resident) neighbours were able to take their son to the US for three months, while the parents of US Open winner Emma Raducanu were unable to see their daughter play in the final.

From a purely health point of view, this policy has made little sense and as former Virgin Atlantic comms chief and travel industry campaigner Paul Charles points out, these border bans (like many Covid travel bans) have been driven by political considerations, not data.

Fortunately from November, the US is finally changing tack and will allow all vaccinated arrivals entry into the country.  This is welcome news, and will provide much needed relief to the travel and tourism industries – expect both capacity and prices to increase on transatlantic routes.

Now to the next question.  What vaccines will be acceptable for entry? Many people will have had the AstraZeneca vaccine, which AZ never put forward for FDA EUA.

Here a small asterisk at the bottom of the relevant CDC web page currently says the following:

“This guidance applies to COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration….this guidance can also be applied to COVID-19 vaccines that have been listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization (e.g. AstraZeneca/Oxford).”

Note the word “can”, which suggests that this could vary by point of entry, or could even be at the discretion of invididual agents at the border.

When I was last in the USA in late June, I was never asked about my vaccine status (I am double jabbed with AZ), but this new rule change could also lead to greater scrutiny of travellers.

A new twist in the travel vaccine hierarchy

The US at least says it makes no difference as to where you got your jabs – so long as they are the right ones.

In contrast, when it comes to the UK, which significantly lowered its Covid entry requirements for the vaccinated last week, how you are treated on arrival could vary hugely by where you live.  If you received the (say) Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine in the US or Germany, you’ll be able to enter the country no problem.

However if you got that same vaccine in the UAE or India and much of the Global South, you’ll be treated as unvaccinated and have to quarantine (strangely, the UK seems to be accepting vaccines from Kuwait and Qatar but not the UAE).

As aviation pundit Alex Macheras has been tweeting over the past few days there are few good reasons why this policy should be the way it is.

It has also caused a certain amount of bad feeling towards the UK Govt, including an Indian MP cancelling events he was due to speak at.

We’ve talked a lot about the travel vaccine hierarchy in the past. However, there’s now not only a hierarchy of vaccines, but where you actually got your jab matters as well.

It will be interesting to see how long the UK manages to keep this policy going, with some commentators suggesting that it’s down to mutual recognition of vaccine certificates.

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