After nearly 20 months of border-travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, officials offered details Friday about Monday’s reopening of ports of entry to “non-essential travel” for vaccinated foreign nationals.
Beginning at 12:01 a.m. Monday, Mexican citizens will be asked by Customs and Border Protection agents to show proof they are vaccinated in order to gain entry to the United States. Their vaccines must have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration or be on an emergency use listing by the World Health Organization. U.S. citizens crossing the border will not be required to show they are vaccinated, and unvaccinated foreign nationals will still be able to cross for “essential” purposes during the first phase of lifted restrictions.
Starting in early January, foreigners traveling cross-border for reasons deemed essential — including to receive medical treatment, attend school or work — will also be required to be vaccinated.
The lifting of the restrictions have been celebrated by members of the El Paso business community that have been hit hard by the closure, and by mixed citizenship El Paso-Juárez families and friends who have been separated throughout the pandemic.
Border officials must strike a “delicate balance” in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 while also facilitating lawful cross-border travel, Ray Provencio, acting El Paso port director, said at the Paso del Norte port of entry Friday.
“To reduce unnecessary transaction time that could be impacting the wait times, travelers have a shared responsibility of preparing for their crossing,” Provencio said.
Although CBP officers will have the discretion of whether to examine a person’s vaccine documentation at the border crossing, Provencio said travelers should be prepared for delays at the bridge.
“There will be ebb and flows, but we also will reallocate resources as appropriate,” he said, although he did not provide specific numbers on increased lane openings or staffing.
To help reduce wait times, Provencio said travelers should have proof of vaccination ready when they reach the officer, try to travel at off-peak times, and those who need a permit to cross to take advantage of the CBP One mobile app and apply and pay in advance.
He said that those steps can make a big difference in wait times, and clarified that the people registered in the Trusted Traveler program are “always going to be a priority.”
“It’s a program that we know people invest in,” he said. “We’re always going to put the appropriate resources to ensure that line flows as well.”
Cover photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers inspect border crossers at the Paso del Norte port of entry on Friday, prior to the lifting of travel restrictions for foreign nationals crossing for non-essential reasons with proof of vaccination. (René Kladzyk/El Paso Matters)