The Biden administration is planning to roll out a new policy in November that denies the right to travel or immigrate to the United States to anyone in the world who is unvaccinated. It will replace various nonsensical travel bans on Europeans, Chinese, Iranians, Brazilians, South Africans, and Indians, but a majority of the world (57 percent) has not received even a single shot of any of the vaccines, and only 1.9 percent of people in low‐income countries have received at least one dose. This includes pretty much the entire continent of Africa.
Currently, everyone—vaccinated or not—traveling to the United States must test negative for COVID-19. In the United States, pharmacies have ample supplies of vaccines available for anyone who wants one, and if the administration does move to mandate the vaccine, it must allow immigrants and travelers from places where the vaccine is not available to have the opportunity to travel to the United States in order to get vaccinated. Otherwise, this discriminatory policy would wrongly exclude billions of people unable to obtain a vaccine.
Why would they allow them to test negative and enter on October 31, but on November 1, ban them if they were willing to get vaccinated? A policy allowing for people to get vaccinated in the United States would help spur economic recovery and help the world get vaccinated. With negative tests, the risk of spreading COVID-19 would be minimal, and since anyone in the United States who wants to get a vaccine could have already gotten one, the imposed risk to Americans is extremely small.
President Biden ran as the most pro‐immigrant presidential candidate since Lincoln but has governed as one of the most anti‐immigrant presidents ever—only slightly better than his predecessor. This move, which is effectively a ban on Africa, is wrong, and he should reconsider. The economic costs will be significant. Nearly a half a million people travel to the United States from Africa during normal years. In addition, nearly 60,000 permanent immigrants settle here. This ban will harm the United States.
On the flip side, the government should immediately exempt vaccinated travelers from the bans right now and not wait until November. The government is admitting (finally) what the science had already shown: that vaccinated travelers are extremely low risk. There is no reason to keep COVID-19 travel restrictions at all so long as an effective vaccine is available to Americans, but if the government is going to impose any restrictions, it should do so in a way to limit the economic costs.