British Columbia

Hope on horizon for business owners over B.C.-Washington border reopening, but questions remain

Struggling business owners in communities near the B.C.-Washington border are breathing a sigh of relief after hearing word that land borders will soon reopen to fully vaccinated travellers, but say many questions remain.

"If those people have to have the swab ... in addition to being vaccinated it isn't going to work for us"

Come November, fully vaccinated travellers from Canada and Mexico will be allowed to enter the U.S. at land border and ferry crossings, but an exact date has not yet been specified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (pointrobertsmarina.com)

Struggling business owners in communities near the British Columbia-Washington border are breathing a sigh of relief after hearing word that land borders will soon reopen to fully vaccinated travellers — but say many questions remain.

"It's the life raft we've been waiting for," said Ali Hayton, owner of Point Roberts International Marketplace. "We love our locals, but oh man, have we missed our Canadian neighbours."

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security confirmed Wednesday it will allow fully vaccinated travellers from Canada and Mexico to enter at land border and ferry crossings in early November, but did not offer an exact date.

"It's almost like an early Christmas present for people who rely on Canadian customers," said Len Saunders, an immigration lawyer based in Blaine, Washington.

"We'll get an influx of people for the holidays and we'll start to recover," said Ali Hayton, owner of the Point Roberts International Marketplace. (Brian Calder)

The U.S. Centre for Disease Control still has to decide whether it will recognize mixed COVID-19 vaccines. The U.S. has not yet approved the mixing of vaccine doses.

The president of the Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce in Washington says it's not clear if Canadians will be subject to COVID-19 testing as they come and go across the border to pick up parcels and buy gas and groceries.

"If those people have to have the swab, and the test, and all that other protocols in addition to being vaccinated it isn't going to work for us," Brian Calder said.

Point Roberts is part of the United States, but is not physically connected to it. To reach the community by land, visitors must pass through Canada. (Google Maps)

Laurie Trautman, director of the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University, says there will be a initial surge of people who have been anticipating the reopening of the border, such as property owners, families with loved ones and snowbirds.

But she questions whether Canadian travellers will find it worth their while to pop down for a quick day trip of shopping and filling up on cheap gas. 

"That kind of trip is just not really feasible under the current situation," she said.

Current regulations require Canadians who are re-entering Canada to have two COVID-19 vaccinations, a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arrival, and show that they have downloaded the ArriveCan app to their smartphone, which provides mandatory travel information before and after entry.

Canadians may also find it difficult to get an appointment for a COVID-19 test in Washington state, said lawyer Len Saunders, because testing sites are booked days and weeks in advance, with some people in the northern area of the state being forced to travel to Seattle for testing.

Senior U.S. officials announced Tuesday night a plan to begin reopening land borders to fully vaccinated travellers from Canada and Mexico, which have been closed for non-essential travel since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

An exact date for the reopening has not yet been determined, according to senior administration officials who briefed reporters earlier during a conference call.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, right, bumps elbows with a worker at the seafood counter of the Uwajimaya Asian Food and Gift Market, Tuesday, March 3, 2020. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

They said a number of details are still being worked out, including the type of documentation that will be accepted to prove a traveller's vaccination status.

"We are working to clarify and finalize all the details with our American partners," Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said in Washington Wednesday.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee said people in his state have long been ready to accept Canadians back. 

"It should have happened sooner: Canada has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, and Canadians were already allowed to travel to the U.S. by air throughout the pandemic," Inslee said.

Trautman says part of the reason land border restrictions haven't been lifted sooner is because U.S. Customs and Border Protection hasn't developed a system like the ArriveCan app, one which she suggests they will eventually have to adopt.

"I'm glad to see we're moving forward but I do think we'll have to refine that process to make it more seamless and efficient for travellers and for border officers as well," Trautman said.

It's a sentiment echoed by Doug Hornsby, a 72-year-old who owns Border Mail Box and Parcel in Blaine, Washington. It's among a handful of similar parcel businesses near the border where many Canadians have packages delivered to avoid international shipping costs.

"I haven't taken home a paycheck in 18 months, I'm just trying to make ends meet and keep this business alive for when things get going again," he said.

Hornsby says he has thousands of packages piled in his building, many of which have been there for the duration of the pandemic.

"If they don't eliminate that test, it's going to be very difficult for people," he said. "They won't be able to come down for a one-day shop."

With files from Jon Hernandez

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