As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel into Canada has been largely limited since late March. Initially, the exemptions allowing for essential personnel were very narrow, with the majority of essential personnel being students or workers. Later in the year, the Canadian Border Services Agency (“CBSA”) promulgated an exception to the essential personnel rule for immediate family members. This exception allowed for a spouse, a dependent child, the parent of a person’s spouse and a guardian or tutor to cross the border, despite not previously being classified as essential. The family member exception did not apply to temporary residents of Canada, which includes those on work visas or students. Would-be travellers under the exception would need to have a 14-day quarantine plan in place in order to be able to cross the border. The summer exception was narrowly constructed but allowed for those who had been separated from their loved ones for months to reunite.

Family Exemptions Expanded

In the face of rising numbers of COVID-19 infections, the CBSA has expanded the family member exception in order to allow more people to cross the border to see their loved ones after a separation of over six months in many cases. Under the new exception, has expanded the list of family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents who will be eligible to travel into Canada to include:

  • individuals in an exclusive dating relationship with a Canadian citizen or permanent resident for at least 1 year who have spent time in the physical presence of the Canadian citizen or permanent resident during the relationship and these individuals’ dependent children
  • non-dependent children (adult children who do not meet the definition of a dependent child in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations)
  • grandchildren
  • siblings (including half- and step-siblings)
  • grandparents

However, the CBSA has made it clear that the border will not be completely open to all family members, despite the new regulations. The classifications of people mentioned in the list above will be eligible enter Canada for an optional or discretionary purpose only if they:

  • are staying in the country for 15 days or more
  • provide Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) with the required documentation, including a completed and signed statutory declaration, to show they meet the definition of an extended family member of a Canadian citizen or Canadian permanent resident
  • meet existing eligibility and admissibility requirements to enter the country
  • are travelling to Canada with a valid passport and travel document (visa or electronic travel authorization, if needed)
  • have received written authorization from IRCC to travel to Canada as an extended family member

The required documentation requirements for a family member exception application can be found here. Further, along with all of the above regulations, the traveller will need to abide by the quarantine rules that are in place. Finally, it is important to remember that the final decision on entry into Canada remains up to the discretion of a border services officer at the port of entry.

New Regulations for Compassionate Visitors

The Canadian government is also working towards an exception whereby foreign nationals will be allowed to enter Canada for compassionate reasons, such as to be present for a dying loved one, to provide support to a person deemed critically ill, to provide support to a person who medically requires support, and attending a funeral or end of life ceremony. In order to apply you will require:

1. A Letter of Required Support, completed and signed by a licensed health care professional that certifies that your presence is required to:

  • be present during the final moments of life for a loved one or to support someone who is critically ill; or
  • provide care or support for someone who has a medical reason 

2. If you need to attend a funeral or end of life ceremony, the following documents are examples that can be used as part of the death notification:

  • statement of death
  • medical certificate of death
  • burial permit
  • death certificate

Full instructions on the steps necessary to receive approval as a compassionate visitor to Canada can be found here. This new exception will allow separated families to avoid the anguish of not being able to be with their loved ones during their most vulnerable moments. Depending on the severity of the pandemic in the coming months, we could see more exceptions like the ones here granted by the Canadian government.

Make sure you stay updated on regional restrictions and regulations before you make travel arrangements. If you are trying to travel make sure you qualify as essential or prepare an exemption request. Depending on where you are going, you may also need a 14-day quarantine plan. If you have questions about where you can travel, please do not hesitate to contact us.

The immigration lawyers at Garson Immigration Law are continuing 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 any questions about your potential classification as essential or about how you should comply with the changing regulations, do not hesitate to reach out to us online or by calling us at 416-321-2860.

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