(The Center Square) – Maine's political leaders are praising the federal government's decision to lift the border closure with Canada, saying the move is "long overdue."
On Tuesday, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement that beginning next month, it will allow travelers from Mexico and Canada "who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to enter the United States for non-essential purposes, including to visit friends and family or for tourism, via land and ferry border crossings."
Unvaccinated visitors will still be prohibited from entering the U.S. from Canada or Mexico at land borders, according to Mayorkas' statement.
Gov. Janet Mills thanked the Biden administration for heeding the calls of Maine officials to reopen the border but said the changes are "long overdue."
"For too long, the closed border with our Canadian neighbors has made it difficult, if not impossible, for cross-border families to see one another, and it has strained our local small businesses and our state’s tourism industry," Mills said.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, called the move a "welcome development for Maine's small businesses that have suffered significant revenue losses without Canadian customers."
"When the U.S.-Canada border closed more than a year and a half ago it created significant disruptions in border towns, where people routinely cross to shop, visit their medical providers, attend church and participate in local events," Collins said in a statement.
Travelers will be required to have appropriate paperwork that provides proof of vaccination, according to Homeland Security.
Beginning in January 2022, the federal agency will require all inbound foreign national travelers crossing U.S. land or ferry POEs – "whether for essential or non-essential reasons" – to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and provide related proof of vaccination.
The agency said the new policy will provide ample time for essential travelers such as truckers, students, and health care workers to get vaccinated.
In August, Canada began allowing fully vaccinated U.S. visitors for nonessential travel.
But less than a week later federal officials decided to extend similar U.S. restrictions, initially put in place in March 2020, which drew rebukes from politicians from border states.
Last month, the Biden administration announced that it would begin lifting travel restrictions on air travelers from at least 33 countries, including China and Brazil, who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Like many northern border states, Maine depends on a steady flow of tourism from Canada, especially during the normally busy summer months.
Canadians made up 14% of all visitors to Maine in 2019, and accounted for about 22% of retail sales by visitors to the state, according to Hospitality Maine.
In his statement, Mayorkas acknowledged the impact on the restrictions on border states on commerce and family relations.
"Cross-border travel creates significant economic activity in our border communities and benefits our broader economy," he said. "We are pleased to be taking steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner.”