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France US travel: pressure is mounting for borders to open

The US is still shut to vaccinated French travellers as travel bodies, advocacy groups and EU politicians call for a change in the rules 

Fully vaccinated Americans have been able to travel to France since June but the rule is not reciprocated for travel to the US Pic: Guzel Gashigullina / Shutterstock

The US is still shut to vaccinated French travellers as travel bodies, advocacy groups and EU politicians call for a change in the rules 

“When the US borders open, who will you be reunited with in the arrivals hall?” Virgin Atlantic tweeted on Saturday.

The question in France is not so much who, as when. While the Channel is now open for quarantine-free travel between France and the UK for those who are vaccinated, the Atlantic remains shut for most travellers from France. 

France opened its arms - and borders - to vaccinated American travellers on June 9 in line with EU recommendations

But as the US makes it to Europe’s safe list, the Trump-era travel ban on Schengen arrivals – in place since March 2020 – remains. 

Currently, only US citizens and residents can travel from France to the US. Despite mounting pressure from the EU and airline industry bodies such as IATA, US borders are still closed to Europeans. And there is no indication of when that might change.

‘Unfair’ and ‘absurd’ rules criticised

The imbalance is not lost on some. Anna Shaw, a French woman living in Texas asked: “When will the US open its borders to fully-vaccinated Europeans? I haven’t seen my French parents in more than two years. Meanwhile, I see plenty of my friends’ pictures on vacation in France and in Europe. This is frustrating and unfair.”

Recent US holidaymakers in France include US Vice President Kamala Harris’s stepdaughter, Ella Emhoff, who was pictured on a yacht in the south of France last month.

Others have questioned why the rules cannot be changed for fully vaccinated travellers. “Vaxxed Americans are allowed to come in regardless of the motive,” says Emilie in Lyon. “But vaxxed Europeans still can’t enter the US, and there is no ‘compelling reason’ for travel like there was in France.” 

Yet more are questioning seemingly nonsensical travel rules causing Europeans to quarantine in neighbouring countries before entering the US. 

“Tons of Americans are travelling to Europe for holidays and are allowed to return to the USA with a PCR test. Yet EU citizens can’t come to the US without quarantining for two weeks in Mexico or somewhere else with high COVID cases. It makes zero sense!” said US citizen Christina Cindrich.

“It’s absurd that four of my fully vaccinated and PCR-tested UK and France-based family members have to spend 15 days in Canada before flying to the US to attend a wedding,” said Kris Olds, a geographer professor at the University of Wisconsin. 

Politicians and travel bodies join calls for rule change

For months, advocacy groups #loveisnottourism and #StoptheTravelBan have been calling for an end to travel rules separating couples and family members stuck in different countries.

Now travel bodies are questioning the US rules for travel from Europe.

Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) points out that unvaccinated people from 160 countries can currently enter the US, but for French and European travellers there have not even been exemptions to the ban.

“The current US approach defies the scientific logic touted by the administration, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization,” it said in a statement. 

"Vaccinated airline passengers from Europe now come universally from countries with lower per-capita Covid-19 than the United States. These vaccinated and Covid-19 negative tested passengers have been needlessly being turned away by the United States for far too long."

But as the opposition gets louder, what’s now known as “Biden’s travel ban” is not budging, despite the administration promising change since May 2021. 

Critics feel let down – and surprised – by President Biden's continuing stance on keeping Europeans out.

Officials including European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, have called for “reciprocity”.

Ms von der Leyen said the US should allow travel for all vaccinated Europeans given the level of the Delta outbreak on both sides of the Atlantic is “very similar”.

Talks with US ‘ongoing’

The latest statistics from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control show the average 14-day Covid infection rate in Europe is 209 cases per 100,000, with France at 462.

In the US, the figure is 270 cases per 100,000 residents – at least three times the current EU threshold of 75 for inclusion on the safe list. 

“There is a good case for the US to remove their travel restrictions, or at least adapt them, given the improving health situation in the EU overall,” says the Commission's spokesperson, Adalbert Jahnz. 

He added that talks with the US on the issue are ongoing, even as the US has recently placed France back on the US black-list travel advisory, with a Level 4 warning: Do Not Travel.

This does not augur well for a quick lifting of restrictions.

Worse, there are even murmurings in Brussels of the US being removed from the EU’s safe list of countries in its next review at the end of August – something that will complicate the question of reciprocity even more. 

In this context Dr Joe Leader, CEO of APEX, says lifting the ban is now a question of urgency. “The United States must now reciprocate before Europe's doors are closed to vaccinated Americans, as hinted at last week by the European Commission President,” he said.

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