Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, travel regulations around the world have been rapidly changing as countries have to make tough decisions at their borders in order to react to the threat caused by the COVID-19 virus. Although changes in regulations happen often, they happen more rapidly when a new variant of the COVID-19 virus is discovered. Earlier in 2021, the delta variant caused concern around the world and accordingly resulted in policy changes. Now, there is the new omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus which was identified in November in Southern Africa and is confirmed to be present in Canada and the United States in small numbers. Now, both countries are making travel regulation changes in order to try to curb the spread of the new variant. These travel regulations may impact those who have travel plans for the holiday season, so it is important to keep up to date on what is changing in order to avoid being caught out.
On November 30, Canada implemented several new travel restrictions and regulations. To enter the country, travellers coming into Canada must now be fully vaccinated in accordance with Canada’s vaccination requirements. A negative COVID-19 test for a traveller who is not vaccinated is no longer sufficient to enter Canada unless the traveller falls under one of the few exempted categories. For travellers who are not fully vaccinated, there are very limited exemptions available until January 14, 2022, including individuals who are travelling to reunite with family, international students, professional athletes and their support staff, amateur athletes, individuals with a valid work permit (including temporary foreign workers, excluding agricultural and food processing), and most essential service providers. Following January 14, 2022, the exemptions will be even more limited.
Another change that was implemented on November 30th allows Canadians to travel to the United States and return to Canada without a negative COVID-19 test, provided the length of the trip is less than 72 hours. However, it is important to note that travellers must use the ArriveCAN app prior to crossing the border in order to avoid a 14-day quarantine. Further, if you are coming into Canada, you should use the ArriveCAN app in order to facilitate your entry into the country. The app is available for free and can be downloaded from the Google Play Store or the App Store.
The omicron variant has spurred further travel regulation changes as the Canadian government is worried about its spread. Certain countries have been added to the travel ban list and as of December 6, there are 10 countries with entry prohibitions. Foreign nationals who have been in any of these countries over the previous 14 days will not be permitted entry into Canada. The countries on the list are all in Africa and include Botswana, Egypt, Eswanti, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. If you are a Canadian Citizen, Permanent Resident, or person with status under the Indian Act, you will be subject to enhanced pre-entry and arrival testing, screening, and quarantine measures if you enter Canada after having been in one of the countries on the list within the previous 14 days. The Canadian government will continue to monitor the situation with regard to the omicron variant, so the travel ban list may be expanded if there are substantial outbreaks of the omicron variant in other countries in the coming weeks.
For countries not on the travel ban list, there are additional requirements for all air travellers coming to Canada, except for those from the United States. All travellers that arrive at Canadian airports from outside of Canada now need to be tested at the airport when they land in Canada. This testing requirement comes in addition to the pre-departure test that is required for entry. Following the test at the airport, vaccinated travellers are to isolate until they receive a negative COVID-19 result. Unvaccinated travellers who are permitted to come into Canada will have to isolate for 14 days, taking a test on day one and on day eight of their quarantine. If a traveller who is ordered to quarantine does not have a safe place to isolate, they will be mandated to isolate in a government quarantine hotel. If you are travelling to Canada and entering through an airport, you should expect longer than normal delays, as the airports are worried about the logistics of testing all arriving air travellers from countries that are not the United States.
If you are planning on flying into the United States you will need to get a COVID-19 test no later than 24 hours before your departure. This new regulation comes in response to the Omicron variant concerns. There is still no testing requirement for Canadians to enter the United States over the land border, but it is possible one will be instituted in the future. For now, just make sure to comply with the current regulations in order to avoid being denied entry.
The travel rules apply to domestic travel within Canada as well as international travel coming into Canada. In order to board a Canadian domestic flight, people who are 12 years plus 4 months old and older must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in accordance with the government guidelines. All travellers must have received their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days before their departure date as well. For flights within Canada, a pre-departure COVID-19 test is not required. Full COVID-19 vaccination is also required for Canadians to domestically travel within Canada through the railway system on VIA Rail or Rocky Mountaineer trains.
Going forward, the government could update this policy to include the third booster shot that is being made available. However, a policy change will likely be announced far in advance and certainly after the booster is made widely available to the Canadian population, as it is not widely available at this point.
Garson Immigration Law is a firm exclusively dedicated to the practice of immigration law. We assist companies and individual professionals across a wide range of industries with designing strategies for their small and large-scale immigration needs both into Canada and the US, as well as from around the globe. We regularly assist clients with Canadian inadmissibility, including inadmissibility for medical reasons, and US inadmissibility. We successfully guide clients through the immigration process, with an eye toward the ever-changing regulations in light of COVID-19.
The immigration lawyers at Garson Immigration Law continue to monitor the immigration fallout in relation to COVID-19 on both sides of the border and will provide updates as the situation develops. If you have questions about your potential classification, eligibility to travel, or compliance with changing regulations, do not hesitate to reach out to us online or by calling us at 416-321-2860.
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