As it has been since March, the Canada-United States border remains closed to non-essential travel, and it is looking like it will remain closed with the same restrictions for the foreseeable future. What does this mean for applicants and existing members of the various border crossing programs? Below we provide an overview of what you need to know.
If you are an essential traveller crossing into the United States at a border point of entry and are looking to apply for or renew your NEXUS/FAST membership you may have to wait. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, NEXUS allowed pre-screened travellers expedited processing when entering the United States and Canada. There were dedicated NEXUS lanes at certain ports of entry, allowing travellers enrolled in the program to save time while going through customs. In order to receive NEXUS classification, would-be travellers were required to fill out eligibility forms, pay $50 USD per adult over 18 years old, and visit an enrollment centre in order to have a brief interview and have their irises scanned.
Currently, NEXUS enrollment centres in Canada are closed until at least October 5 and enrollment centres in the United States are also currently closed. Further, most NEXUS lanes are temporarily closed at ports of entry, so even if you have the NEXUS classification already, do not expect to be able to use it.
There has been a temporary reduction of service or full suspension of service at certain Canadian border service locations. The suspension of service will be reviewed on an ongoing basis so be sure to check which entry points are open shortly before your planned travels. If you have NEXUS classification already and are worried about that classification expiring because of the closure of enrollment centres, there is no need to worry. As long as you submit an application for NEXUS membership renewal prior to the expiry date on your card, your membership will be extended for 18 months past the expiry date. It remains to be seen what will happen after that 18 month period elapses, but in the best-case scenario, you will be able to visit an enrollment centre for another interview in order to renew your NEXUS membership. If enrollment centres are not open, it is possible that another extension will be granted.
It is not just the NEXUS program that has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, the Remote Area Border Crossing Program is temporarily suspended, and no new applications are being accepted. The RABC helps to facilitate clearance for border crossing for those wishing to cross into Canada in the following locations:
Pending applicants will be notified when the program is reinstated so if you have an application pending you will need to be patient. The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) has announced that it is extending the validity of expired and expiring memberships for CANPASS, the Pilot Project for Travellers in Remote Areas and the Commercial Driver Registration Program. Further, the CBSA has announced that it will continue to accept applications and renewal requests for the aforementioned programs but warns that there will be significant processing delays because of the current situation.
Some forms of business travel are exempted from the border restrictions, especially business that relates to the flow of goods such as food and medical supplies. The CBSA has also urged business clients to contact the CBSA by email or electronic forms, rather than by traditional mail or fax in order to speed up its response time. The CBSA has further warned that if you are importing goods by mail there may be significant processing delays because of the overall increase in volume at the international mail centres. Importers and exporters within Canada will be subject to new regulations, mostly dealing with moving their reporting online so make sure you stay up to date with the newest CBSA regulations in order to ensure your compliance.
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 are permitted to 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.