by Photo by Sarah Berjan

For the first time in nearly 20 months, the Department of Homeland Security lifted travel restrictions for all fully vaccinated travelers in time for the holiday season. 

The new rules allow for fully vaccinated individuals 18 years or older to legally enter the United States regardless of the reason. Travelers are expected to provide proof of vaccination upon entry.

High volumes of travelers and long wait times are anticipated. Visitors are encouraged to avoid peak hours on Monday through Friday from 4 a.m – 9 a.m and  on weekends from 2 p.m- midnight. 

“Today the border opens for non essential travel, reuniting families, reopening businesses on both sides of the border in addition to bridging the gap that those restrictions made. Reopening comes at an especially critical time because it allows for businesses to seize the economic opportunity presented by the holiday shopping and the holiday season,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said.   

Non-essential travel restrictions have been in place along the border between the U.S. and Mexico since March 2020. Mayor Gloria worked alongside a coalition of binational leaders and advocates for months to bring an end to these restrictions, reunite San Diego families and support the local businesses in San Ysidro and Otay Mesa that rely on cross-border commerce.

The COVID-19 restrictions kept Mexican citizens with visas or border crossing cards from visiting the United States. Mexico never closed its borders to incoming visitors. U.S citizens and legal residents were able to cross into Mexico regardless of their reasoning. 

Vice Chair of San Diego County Board of Supervisors Nora Vargas said San Diego took part in bi-national projects to ensure equal opportunity and access for vaccinations and labor in the United States during the pandemic. Last week, San Diego and the state of California donated vaccinations sufficient for 450 youth ages 12-18 years old in Baja California. 

“During the pandemic we witnessed some of the highest infection rates and transmission rates happen in Southern California. It really exposed the weaknesses in our healthcare delivery and our disease prevention system. Since then, California has taken more aggressive measures to prevent the spread of this disease and others as well,”California State Senator Ben Hueso said. 

As the biggest point of entry crossing in the world, the San Ysidro Point of Entry processes billions of dollars in commerce and trade annually and impacts the national economy. Nearly 80 percent of businesses in San Ysidro rely on border customers, most of them obtaining tourist visas. 

The San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce reports $1.3 billion in retail sales have been lost since 2020. Over 20,000 people lost their jobs and over 200 businesses had permanently closed in San Ysidro. More than 60 percent of businesses make most of their profits during the holiday shopping season, which runs from Nov. 20 according to Wells. 

“We are all essential. This is a discrimination against tourism. It was crossings that were employment and non employment related. We are all essential. Every shopping trip to San Ysidro, every wine trip to Valle de Guadalupe, it is all essential to someone and to our binational region,” Jason Wells, CEO of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce said. 

“This is truly a bin-national effort,” Gloria said in condemning elected and business leaders in their efforts in lifting travel restrictions at the border. 

“What we have done today should be a template moving forward to drive positive change in this border region. For the last five plus years it seems like the border is something bad. Everyone here knows the border is an asset to Tijuana, San Diego and  Baja California,” he said. 


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