On the 20th of September, the Biden administration announced they would be lifting the travel ban instated at the outset of the pandemic. For over 18 months, 33 countries including the members of the European Union, India, Iran and China amongst others have faced a blanket travel ban from the US. However, from early November, the ban will be replaced with a vaccination mandate, allowing for the resumption of travel to the United States for those with proof of vaccination.
The travel ban itself was a controversial topic, with the issue straining relations between the EU and the US especially once the rollout of vaccines began to intensify. With vaccine uptake high in the majority of the EU, member states began to ease restrictions, with many allowing US citizens to enter despite their record-breaking case numbers. This decision was not reciprocated by the US, who instead chose to keep borders closed due to concerns over the Delta variant of COVID-19. Earlier last month, EU Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, stated the travel ban was a ‘problem’ which had to be resolved ‘as soon as possible’. Now it seems, after months of diplomatic back channelling, that the EU has managed to assuage the Biden administrations doubts and reinstate travel across the Atlantic.
The lifting of the travel ban will be welcomed by all EU citizens, but especially by students. America is a prime destination for both work holidays and study. Students have flocked to the US for decades on the coveted J1 visa, and while numbers of applicants for the J1 visa have declined in recent years, there is hope on both sides of the Atlantic that the resumption of travel between both the EU and US will see a bounce back in applicants.
In the decade prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, participation amongst Irish students, in particular, had fallen dramatically, with online publication TheJournal.ie stating that between 2013 and 2019, the number of Irish third-level students who utilised the programme fell by almost 60%. Despite these statistics though, it is hoped that the relative ease at which an Irish student can travel to the US coupled with having been subjected to staycations for two summers, will see J1 applications sore for the summer of 2022.
The easing of restrictions is not only welcome news for those wishing to work abroad, but also for students who hope to study in the US. The US is the second most popular destination for Irish third-level students seeking to study abroad, with only the UK boasting a higher number of Irish students in its third level institutions. In 2015, according to Fulbright.ie, over 1200 students from Ireland were studying in the US. The EU is also the number one destination for US students, with almost 55% of US students studying abroad in 2018 doing so within the EU, as reported by the Institute for International Education.
Furthermore, it is clear that the lifting of the travel ban will go some way to repairing the relations between the US and EU which were strained by its implementation over the previous number of months. The news will also not only be welcomed by those in power in Brussels but by students across the EU who can begin to enjoy the cultural and academic benefits of cross- Atlantic travel once again.
Rory Fleming – Politics Writer