The Canadian-United States border remains closed to all non-essential travel for the foreseeable future. Although the spread of COVID-19 in Canada has been slowed and we are seeing more municipalities entering stage 3 reopening, the United States has struggled with the pandemic, reporting approximately 60,000 new cases on July 28. The border closure has led some people to attempt to cross the border illegally. On July 25, an American man illegally jumped the border in British Columbia and evaded RCMP officers for a few hours before he was apprehended and turned over to the Canada Border Service Agency.
One group of American citizens who will not have to resort to crossing the border illegally are students. Recently, the American government retracted its visa amendments that some were concerned would have barred Canadians from entering the U.S. if their school in America had opted to operate solely online. The Canadian government has followed suit by updating its regulations on American students. Up until this week, American students coming to Canada required a study permit issued on or before March 18 in order to ensure they would be allowed to cross the border.
The rule, as previously constructed, still allowed for upper year students to enter Canada so long as they still had valid study permits, even if they had spent the summer in the United States. However, the rule would have rendered it impossible for incoming first-year American students to cross the border and begin their studies as they would have been unable to obtain the study permit needed to cross the border. Given that work and study are listed as examples of non-discretionary essential travel, the change makes sense from a policy perspective. Now, if an incoming student does not yet have their study permit in hand, Canadian Border Service Agency officers have been instructed to accept a “port of entry letter of introduction” that shows that a student was approved for a study permit.
Currently, the exception to the rule only applies to incoming students from the United States. Other incoming international students must still adhere to the on or before March 18 rule regarding their study permits and entry to Canada. It remains to be seen if the Canadian government will grant the same exception to other international students. Given the state of the pandemic within the United States, it would follow that the same exception may be given to most other countries as well. However, Canadian Immigration officials have not tipped their hand as to whether more exceptions will be granted. Speaking on the situation, the Canadian department of immigration announced:
“There are no measures in place to provide for expedited processing of study permit applications. Foreign nationals who had a study permit application approved after March 18, 2020 … may not be exempt from the travel restrictions (and) they should not make any plans to travel to Canada until the travel restrictions are lifted, as they will not be allowed to travel to or enter Canada.”
Some positives were announced by the department of immigration last week for international students not from the United States despite the statement. Immigration minister Mark Mendicino indicated that the government would prioritize study permits for students who had submitted complete applications online. Further, students will be able to apply time spent studying online toward their eligibility for work permits in Canada, provided at least 50% of their program is completed in Canada. There will also be a priority processing system for students who are unable to obtain all the necessary documentation before their scheduled move-in dates.
If you are an international student scheduled to come to Canada to study in the fall, make sure you stay updated on the rapidly developing situation, and make sure you have applied for a study permit if you have not already. If you need assistance 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.