Earlier this year, we wrote about how some Canadians, primarily those who travel south to the United States every winter, were eligible to be vaccinated in certain states, like Florida and Arizona. As a result of this eligibility, some Canadian travellers received COVID-19 vaccines in the United States much earlier than they would have received them here in Canada.
Now, at land borders between the US and Canada, some Canadians are again heading south of the border in order to be inoculated. On May 18, hundreds of Canadians crossed the land border into the United States from Alberta into Montana in order to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The Blackfeet Tribe in the US had extra vaccines and decided that rather than letting the vaccines go to waste they would share the vaccines with Canadians.
The temporary clinic received approval from both the United States and Canadian governments. In order to attend the clinic, Canadians had to drive just across the border, receive their shots through a window, and then drive back over the border. Importantly, Ottawa confirmed that Canadians who took advantage of quicker vaccinations in the US would be exempted from the 14-day quarantine requirement upon crossing the border back into Canada.
While Canadians in Alberta were able to cross the border in order to be vaccinated in the United States, Canadians trying to cross at other border crossings for the purpose of being vaccinated have been less successful. The Canada-United States border remains closed to non-essential travel at this time. Shortly after the federal government’s confirmation of the quarantine exemption for vaccine-seekers, the United States Customs and Border Protection released a statement that indicated that its position on the issue is that travel for the sole purpose of obtaining a vaccination is not permissible under current travel restrictions. Travellers with a valid or essential reason for travelling to the United States who happen to be vaccinated during their stay were permitted, but travelling exclusively to get a vaccination was not considered essential.
This notice, released within days of the temporary clinic that was set up in Montana, represents a contradiction and has caused confusion amongst many Canadians. This notice further comes after the Public Health Agency of Canada said that crossing the border by land may be considered an essential medical service and would allow the traveller to be exempt from the 14-day quarantine when they return to Canada, subject to certain restrictions. For one, travellers may not make any other stops besides the vaccination itself.
A spokesperson for the Canadian Border Services Agency laid out the rules for avoiding quarantine.
“Canadian residents returning to Canada after receiving essential medical services in the United States may be exempt from COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements if they have a note from a Canadian licensed health care practitioner indicating the service abroad was essential and a note from a U.S. licensed health care practitioner indicating the resident received the service.”
Of course, these regulations only apply if you have been able to cross the border, as some Canadians attempting to cross into New York State to be vaccinated have been turned around at the border. It is easy to see why Canadians are confused, as some have been able to cross the border to be vaccinated whereas others were turned around at the border.
Further adding to the confusion, the Public Health Agency of Canada issued a statement on Wednesday, saying the quarantine exemption for those seeking lifesaving treatment in the US was not intended for COVID vaccines. Those who have already travelled across the border, such as those who went to Montana, will now have to quarantine for the full 14-day period.
At this point, those looking to get vaccinated would be wise to assume they may be turned away at the border by US officials, and that if they are able to cross, they will have to quarantine in Canada for two weeks. Luckily, many regions in Canada have begun offering vaccinations to most adults, and some minors, so obtaining a vaccine in Canada should be achievable for most people.
Garson Immigration Law is a firm exclusively dedicated to the practice of immigration law. We are committed to successfully guiding clients through the immigration process. We will work to find an effective solution for your individual immigration needs and ensure you are positioned for success with respect to your application.
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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