The US has been added to the “amber” list of countries as part of the reopening of international travel from 17 May, it was confirmed on Friday.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps announced that the country would not make the list of ‘safe’ green countries, stating that the removal of international travel restrictions on May 17 was “necessarily cautious”, adding: “We must make sure the countries we reconnect with are safe.”
The lists are expected to be reviewed and updated every three weeks.
From 17 May, the tourism industry has been given the official nod to restart under a “traffic light” system, from England at least, where countries are assigned either green, amber or red.
Destinations on the green list will have low case numbers and high vaccination rates. Most importantly, visitors to these countries will not be required to quarantine upon their return to the UK unless they test positive for coronavirus.
The US has been out of bounds for more than a year to UK travellers, as presidential proclamations have largely closed borders to Britons.
But now pressure is mounting for travel to open up between the two nations.
On 4 May, a group of airlines, airports and business groups from both sides of the Atlantic called for the full reopening of air travel between the two nations “as soon as safely possible”, reports Reuters.
Here’s what you need to know about UK-US travel this summer.
How important is UK-US travel?
The market is huge. In 2019, nearly 4 million Britons travelled to the US, according to the UK’s Foreign Office, while 4.5 million visits were made from the US to the UK, according to figures from VisitBritain.
Pre-pandemic, London-New York was one of the busiest international air corridors in the world (as well as being important economically), with around 3 million passengers annually.
What are the entry requirements for the US currently?
A ban on travel from the UK to the US was introduced on 16 March last year. The presidential proclamation of 14 March 2020 banned UK travellers from entering the US because their presence “threatens the security of our transportation system and infrastructure and the national security”.
It prevents holidays and non-essential business or family trips to the US. The principle exception is: “Any alien whose entry would be in the national interest.”
According to the UK’s Foreign Office advice, British nationals who have been in the UK, Ireland, Schengen zone, Iran, Brazil, China and South Africa in the previous 14 days will not be granted entry.
Anyone arriving from elsewhere will be subject to usual entry rules: either with a visa or with an Esta visa waiver.
These rules don’t apply to US citizens and permanent residents of the US, as well as close family members and other limited visa holders.
However, these rules currently have limited impact, given that holidaymakers from the UK are banned from travelling abroad recreationally until 17 May at the earliest.
The US is on the amber list - but for how long?
Various factors dictate a country’s entry onto the UK green list: countries must be advanced in their vaccine roll-out; have low levels of any virus variants of concern; and have low infection rates. Taken together, the country must pose a low risk for Covid being reimported to the UK.
As of 3 May, according to the US Centers for Disease Protection, 44.4 per cent of the population have been given one dose of vaccine. More than 147 million people have received at least one jab, which would make it an attractive proposition for the green list.
When will the travel ban be lifted?
Transport secretary Grant Shapps confirmed at a ConservativeHome event in April that he was in talks with his counterpart in the US, Pete Buttigieg, about the loosening of UK-US travel restrictions.
While talks are ongoing and there’s mounting pressure from the travel industry to reopen air links, no firm timeline has been given.
Can Americans travel to the UK?
In April, the CDC warned Americans against travelling to the UK, along with 149 other countries, in a comprehensive update. However, this is not a legal requirement, and is guidance only.
In April, the EU said it would welcome fully vaccinated Americans this summer.
In an interview published in The New York Times, Ursula von der Leyen said she believed that “free movement” from the US to EU countries would be feasible in the coming months.
“The Americans, as far as I can see, use European Medicines Agency-approved vaccines,” Ms von der Leyen told the paper. “This will enable free movement and the travel to the European Union.”
These rules do not apply to the UK, however.
All inbound travellers from the US to the UK must currently present a negative Covid test at the border, and self-isolate at home for 10 days. They also must present a negative PCR test taken on days two and eight. These rules will continue from 17 May if the US is initially classified as amber, as expected, under the UK’s new traffic light system.