By Caroline Cummings

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (WCCO) — The United States on Monday allowed for the first time in 20 months nonessential travelers from several countries across the world, including visitors in Canada who have been barred from driving across the border to Minnesota.

It’s a move welcomed by friends and family of our state’s northern neighbors and a tourism industry eager to rebound. The U.S. is requiring proof of vaccination in order for international visitors to enter by land, and vaccination status plus a negative COVID-19 test if traveling by plane.

For Suzanne Wilson, who now lives in Rochester, the re-opening of the northern border means a long-awaited reunion with her family, most of whom still live in Canada.

“It’s the best news, it really is,” Wilson said at Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport Monday. “We’ve had to cancel family reunions twice.”

Family missed her son’s wedding. She hasn’t seen her mother in 20 months.

“I know everyone can relate to that,” she said. And she’s eager to see them again sooner rather than later and meet at her lake house half way between Rochester and the border.

“They’ve missed it, and we’ve missed them,” Wilson said.

Visitors like Wilson’s family and others from across the world bolster the state’s tourism industry. Last year Minnesota took a $10.7 billion hit in travel spending, said Leann Kispert, interim director of Explore Minnesota, the state’s tourism office.

There were 132,000 Canadians who visited Minnesota in 2020 — just 25% of the total who came in 2019.

Now the industry has the “welcome mat” ready, as industry leaders say tourists from up North are essential to an ongoing economic recovery.

“We have always enjoyed his strong connection with our Canadian friends, and look forward to seeing them back soon,” said Kispert during a news conference with Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Monday.

Klobuchar said her office fielded “difficult” calls throughout the pandemic of Minnesotans who were restricted from seeing ill family members across the border. She also noted border towns that are reliant on Canadians for their businesses to stay afloat and suffered due to the closure.

“I think it was the mayor of Duluth that once said when talking about the pandemic ‘we see the light house on the horizon,’” said Klobuchar. “And I think that is how we’re feeling right now about how our country can move forward but also our great relationship with our incredible friends north of the border.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said the U.S. will accept travelers who have been fully vaccinated with any of the vaccines approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, not just those approved by the FDA.

Canada’s rules for travelers across the border on land are more stringent than the United States’ requirements: both visitors and returning residents have to not only be vaccinated, but also show a negative test.

Ariel Delouya, the consul general of Canada in Minneapolis, said those requirements are “constantly being reassessed” in light of new information on the virus. Klobuchar said she hopes Canada changes its policy to mirror the U.S.

Caroline Cummings