Annie Pforzheimer is a retired career diplomat with the personal rank of Minister Counselor from the Department of State, a Senior Non-Resident Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center, an Adjunct Professor at the City University of New York, and a public commentator and consultant on foreign policy issues.
Successful vaccination rollouts in the USA are allowing some travel restrictions gradually to lift — a positive sign for the tourism and education sectors. Canada and the USA are ramping up efforts to attract and retain foreign workers and entrepreneurs, although the Biden administration was unable to pass major immigration legislation. South America’s relatively slow vaccine rollouts, in part fueled by vaccine hesitancy and misinformation, hold back its recovery and impact the tourism sector.
Student visa holders and other would-be travelers to the USA can be cautiously optimistic about a more normal summer and fall, although some travelers still may not be able to enter the country if their own has high rates of Covid-19 cases or is at a high risk of variants (applied to travelers from Brazil, China, Iran, the Schengen Area, South Africa, and the UK and Ireland). Almost all universities in the USA are planning in-person studies for the fall semester, in many cases also requiring students to be vaccinated, and the country’s restrictions now afford exemptions for journalists and some students and academics.
While Americans and Canadians still cannot cross their common land border, both countries’ citizens are increasingly able to travel abroad. A vaccinated American traveler may visit around 75 countries according to one recent media report, although negative Covid test results are required in almost all cases and many other restrictions may apply. Per guidance from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in place since January, even vaccinated American citizens and permanent residents must show a negative Covid test result from within three days of their arrival in the USA to re-enter the country.
Meanwhile, Canadian travelers can visit more than 60 countries, facing many of the same restrictions as American travelers. However, only four Canadian airports are authorized to receive international flights, and the government policy is still to “avoid all non-essential travel”. On 21 June, the Canadian government exempted citizens who have received Canadian government-approved vaccines from mandatory quarantine and testing requirements on returning.
In late May, the EU set new guidance for allowing vaccinated travelers from Canada, the USA, and elsewhere, as well as all travelers from a small number of ‘safe’ countries (where Covid-19 rates are reliably under control). On 18 June, the EU lifted travel restrictions for visitors from the USA, although not for those from Canada. As rules continue to change, specific worldwide requirements for US citizens are found on the State Department’s travel website and for Canadian citizens on the Foreign Ministry’s travel website.
Although there has been no legislative action in the USA on the proposed major immigration reforms introduced in Congress in February, some positive momentum on foreign workers is underway. Following months of efforts by the business community, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Labor announced in May a temporary final rule to raise the H-2B nonimmigrant visa cap by up to 22,000 additional visas through 30 September 2021. The aim is specifically to benefit American businesses that attest to “irreparable harm” without the ability to employ all the H-2B workers requested in their petition. The rule also allows certain H-2B workers already in the USA to begin employment with a new H-2B employer or agent as soon as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives a timely filed, non-frivolous H-2B petition, avoiding them having to wait until the petition is approved.
Also in May, the Biden administration announced that it will fully implement the International Entrepreneur Rule (IER), a program that lets certain foreign-born entrepreneurs stay in the USA for up to five years if their start-up raises USD 250,000 from established American investors. While the rule has technically been in effect since 2017 when it was introduced under the Obama administration, the Trump administration early on had signaled its intention to dismantle it, depressing interest. If it were properly marketed and administered, however, DHS estimates around 3,000 entrepreneurs per year could qualify. The IER will not confer a permanent immigration status but could be a more straightforward method of qualifying for long-term residence compared to the complex mosaic of other investor or worker visa categories.
Congress did not renew the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center Program, which expired on 30 June, and it has not passed the bipartisan EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act, which aimed to reform and extend it through September 2024. The legislation has 14 bipartisan co-sponsors. The program now enters a period of uncertainty for new and in-process applicants but USCIS has confirmed that applications by investors who are not seeking a visa under the Regional Center Program will not be affected.
Although by the end of June over two-thirds of all Canadians had received one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, far fewer (just over 30%) were fully vaccinated, and Canada extended its travel restrictions for non-essential travel through to 21 July. Exceptions exist, however, for Canadian citizens and residents, designated temporary workers, students, and in some compassionate cases. However, in April Canada announced several new pathways for permanent immigration, in both French and English, for healthcare workers, other essential workers, and graduates of Canadian post-secondary or vocational institutions. Overall, as one analyst noted, Canada’s approach to immigration will reflect its success in tearing down Covid-related restrictions and the constraints of a more politically sensitive environment, with the possibility of a national election later this year.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) noted publicly in April that “insidious rumors and conspiracy theories” about the virus and vaccines were rampant, exacerbating vaccine hesitancy and prolonging the crisis. PAHO said it would team with technology companies including Facebook, Google, and Twitter to guide the public towards accurate vaccine information. Tourism is on the upswing in South America, but amid continued Covid-19 outbreaks some tour operators warn against multi-country travel plans since “if one country closes its borders it can affect the whole trip”.
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