As announced earlier this month, the Canada-United States border will remain closed to all non-essential travel until June 21 at the earliest. This means that while travel is restricted, the border is not completely closed, as personnel deemed to be essential can still cross the border. People have still been coming into Canada from abroad, albeit in much smaller quantities compared to before the ban was imposed.

In the time period from the initial border closure on March 23 to the date of this posting, approximately 200,000 international travellers have landed at Canadian airports, including approximately 76,000 Americans. Although these numbers may seem large, especially when our borders are supposed to be all but closed to non-essential travel, the number of travellers let in during this time period represents a 97-99% decrease from last year’s number of visitors to Canada over the same time period in 2019.

What is Non-Essential Travel?

Before attempting to travel to Canada, it is important to take note of the Canadian Border Services Agency examples of non-essential travel. Some examples of non-essential travel that may result in travellers being returned to the United States at the border include:

  • Visiting family, friends, a girlfriend, boyfriend or fiancĂ©;
  • Attending a party or celebration;
  • Going to a restaurant for take-out;
  • Driving in transit for the purpose of taking a shortcut through Canada to get to a U.S. destination faster
  • Sightseeing;
  • Fishing or hunting; and
  • Opening or checking on a cottage or seasonal home.

This list is not necessarily exhaustive and entry to Canada may be barred for other reasons, if the purpose of the travel is deemed by the Canadian Border Services Agency to be non-essential. However, if you are a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, you have the right to enter Canada but must isolate for 14 days following entry.

Mandatory 14-Day Self Isolation Period

Anyone entering Canada during the restricted border period must have a plan to quarantine for 14 days, regardless of the presence of the characteristic symptoms of COVID-19. There are penalties for not following a quarantine plan, which may include:

  • A fine of up to $750,000
  • Six months of jail time
  • Being found inadmissible, removed from Canada and banned from entering for 1 year

Police officers have checked up on around 2,200 Canadians who are supposed to be in self-isolation since returning from abroad. The monitoring of travellers coming back to Canada may be increased based on comments Prime Minister Trudeau made recently:

“[W]e need to do more to ensure that travellers who are coming back from overseas or from the United States … are properly followed up on, are properly isolated and don’t become further vectors for the spread of COVID-19.”

Although no arrests have been made, it is important to adhere to the 14-day self-isolation as there could be both serious legal and health consequences for breaking self-isolation.

What is Essential Travel?

Essential travel refers to travel for reasons that are non-discretionary and non-optional. Some examples of essential travel purposes include:

  • Work and study
  • Critical infrastructure support
  • Economic services and supply chains
  • Shopping for essential goods, such as:
    • Medication
    • Items necessary for the health and safety of an individual or family
  • Health, immediate medical care, safety and security

Other categories of people that are considered essential and exempt from the travel restrictions provided they do not show COVID-19 symptoms include people who are making medical deliveries required for patient care, work in the trade and construction sector who are important for the movement of goods and people, cross the border regularly to go to work and those who have to cross the border to provide or receive essential services.

International Students

International students who have a valid study permit are considered exempt from the travel restrictions and will be able to enter Canada as long as they comply with certain conditions. International students will be subject to a health check by an airline official to ensure that they do not show signs of COVID-19, they must comply with the 14-day quarantine period after arrival in Canada and they must bring their valid study permit.

Visitor Visas

Despite the travel restrictions caused by COVID-19, visitor visas to Canada are still being processed. However, on the visitor visa application, the applicant must specify if they qualify for an exemption from travel restrictions or that their travel to Canada is essential in order for their visitor visa application to be processed. The process for receiving a visitor visa has become more stringent as a result of COVID-19.

How We Can Help

Being turned away at the border can be very costly in terms of both money and time, so advice from a legal team experienced in both Canadian and U.S. immigration law is essential. If you have doubts about whether you should be classified as essential or non-essential we are here to help.

The immigration lawyers at Garson Immigration Law are continuing to monitor the developing situation in relation to COVID-19 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.

Contact Us

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4950 Yonge St., # 302
Toronto, ON M2N 6K1

Fax: (416) 512-6107