New Hampshire welcome sign

(The Center Square) – New Hampshire officials are praising the federal government's decision to lift the border closure with Canada, saying the move will benefit families and businesses impacted by the restrictive policy.

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.

Members of the state's congressional delegation, who pushed for the border reopening, welcomed the move. They said the 19-month closure separated families and hurt businesses that depend on cross-border commerce.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., called the move by the Biden administration "a common-sense, long overdue decision."

"This is a win for families who’ve been separated and businesses and tourism industries whose operations have been blocked since the start of the pandemic," she said in a statement.

Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., said the border restrictions hurt the state's economy "and prevented families from being able to see friends and loved ones after nearly two years apart."

"For nearly two years, travel across our northern border has been restricted, but it has been clear for some time that these restrictions were no longer consistent with science or common sense," he said.

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 points of entry – "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. The decision drew sharp rebukes from politicians from U.S. border states, including New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who called the decision "absurd."

Last month, the Biden administration announced that it will 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, New Hampshire depends on a steady flow of tourism from Canada, especially during the normally busy summer months. Canadians make up about 80% of New Hampshire's international visitors, according to state data.

Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., said lifting the border restrictions will have a "positive impact" on the state's tourism economy and families with loved ones on the other side of the northern border."