Coronavirus impacts Canadian border travel and immigration

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a major impact on travel to Canada, and processing of immigration applications in Canada.

On April 14, 2020, Canada issued a new Order in Council stating that persons allowed to enter Canada, including Canadian citizens, even if healthy, will be required to self-quarantine for a period of 14 days. If an adequate plan for self-quarantine is not available, persons may be detained in government quarantine facilities. “Essential” workers, cross- border commuters and several other groups are not required to quarantine. Beginning January 7, 2021 all air travelers to Canada must have had a negative PCR COVID test taken within 72 hours of the departure time of the flight, or a positive test taken between 14 and 90 days prior to departure. In addition, most air travelers must now book a three day stay in a government approved hotel at the airport, and may not leave until testing negative on a second COVID test. Persons entering Canada by land must now also present a COVID test. Anyone considering travel to Canada or returning to Canada from abroad must carefully consider these restrictions before attempting to enter Canada. The Order has now been extended to April 21, 2021 and may be extended further. Click here to read the current version of the Order in Council.

Canada has stated that persons showing symptoms of the COVID-19 disease, including Canadian citizens, will be denied boarding a plane. These symptoms have been defined as a having a fever and a cough; or having a fever and difficulty breathing. Citizens and permanent residents who are symptomatic will be admitted at the border subject to quarantine. Foreign nationals who are symptomatic will not be admitted at the border.

Canada has also issued a complex series of Orders in Council limiting who can travel to Canada, and under what circumstances. In general all Canadian citizens and permanent residents have the right to enter Canada without restriction (except for symptomatic individuals traveling by air). Currently two Orders in Council regulate travel to Canada by all other persons. One Order applies to persons traveling to Canada from the United States. The second Order applies to persons traveling from any country other than the United States.

Persons traveling from the United States are prohibited from entering Canada if they seek to enter for an “optional or discretionary purpose.” Prohibited purposes include “tourism, recreation, or entertainment.” Canada has clarified that persons with work permits will be permitted entry if the employer is still in business, and the permit holder is entering to continue work with the employer. Persons may apply for work permits at the port of entry if meeting all requirements. Students from the United States may apply for study permits at the border if their school will be holding in person classes.

There is now also an exemption for “immediate relatives” of Canadian citizens and permanent residents if the immediate relative is coming to Canada to “be with” the Canadian family member for a minimum of fifteen days. Immediate relatives include spouses, common law partners, children, parents and step-parents. The limitations on travel from the United States has now been extended through April 21, 2021 and may be further extended.

Click here to read the complete Order in Council regulating travel from the U.S. This Order is based on the Canadian Quarantine Act. Persons seeking to enter Canada must also comply with all requirements of Canadian immigration law including admissibility requirements. The Quarantine Act does not override the Immigration Act.

Beginning October 8, 2020, Canada added a new class of persons who can travel to Canada, known as “Extended family members.” This class includes adult children of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, as well as persons in an “Exclusive dating relationship.” Unlike immediate family members, extended family members must request advance permission to travel to Canada by filling out a new form. Click here for more information.

The Order in Council applying to persons traveling from countries other than the U.S. is broader. This Order states that all foreign nationals are prohibited from traveling to Canada, but then provides a long list of exceptions. The exceptions include immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, holders of work permits, holders of study permits, and holders of immigrant visas issued before March 18, 2020. The Order then goes on to create an exception to the exceptions – persons cannot come to Canada if they are coming for an “optional or discretionary purpose.” For instance, a person with a work permit who is traveling to Canada to take a vacation will not be admitted. Finally, there is an exception to the exception to the exception – immediate relatives traveling to Canada for a discretionary purpose will be admitted if they plan to stay for at least 15 days. Click here for the complete text of the current Order including the complete list of exceptions. This Order expires April 21, 2021 and may be extended. The new exception for “extended family members” also applies to travel to Canada by persons traveling from countries other than the United States.

Apart from travel issues, Canada is continuing to accept most immigration applications. Government staff is reduced and many officers are still working from home. Processing times may be much longer for many routine applications. Paper applications are affected more than online applications. All applications for work or study permits made from outside Canada must be submitted online.

Click here to visit the Canadian government web site with updates on travel and other issues related to immigration processing during the pandemic.

This is a very fluid situation, and there is confusion on the ground among Canadian immigration officers tasked with carrying out these directives. Moreover, all airlines have reduced available flights, so it may be difficult or impossible to travel to Canada even if you are in an exempt category. Do not attempt to travel to Canada based on information in this Post unless and until you have independently verified that such travel is legal and practical.

Allen & Hodgman’s offices in both the U.S. and Canada remain available to our clients and to others who need immigration assistance during these difficult times. Please contact us if you need our help.