At the end of September, the United States announced it would be changing COVID-19 restrictions for travellers, moving away from a country-by-country basis approach to a uniform policy based on traveller vaccination status. At the time of the announcement, details about certain aspects of the policy were ambiguous, including when the border would open and which vaccines would be accepted. These answers have now been answered and are outlined below.
The Canada-United States border first closed in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although Canadians and Americans have been able to fly across the border for much of the pandemic, the land border was closed both ways to non-essential travel until August 2021. In August, Canada opened its borders to vaccinated American travellers; however, US authorities did not reciprocate and the border remained closed to Canadian travellers.
On October 15, 2021, the United States announced land borders will be open to non-essential travel on November 8, 2021, alongside the new air travel regulations previously announced last month. The regulations differ depending on method of travel. Non-essential air travellers will need to show a pre-departure negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of boarding their flight and proof of vaccination upon arrival to enter the country. Non-essential travellers at the land border will be required to show proof of vaccination only. Unlike non-essential air travellers, land travellers are not required to produce a negative COVID-19 test.
When the new United States travel regulations were first announced, it was unclear if mixed dose COVID-19 vaccines would be accepted. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) does not recognize people who have received mixed doses of the vaccines as being fully vaccinated. With some provinces not yet providing third doses of the vaccine to would-be travellers, many Canadians were left wondering if they would be able to travel to the United States under the new policy.
On October 15, 2021 the United States confirmed it would recognize mixed doses in accordance with the regulations set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO). The United States recognizing mixed doses has important ramifications for millions of Canadians.
The United States will recognize mixed doses of Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Covishield as per the World Health Organization opinion on vaccines for the purposes of travel. This is a huge sigh of relief for more than 3.9 million Canadians who received mixed doses of the vaccines during the rush to become inoculated against COVID-19 earlier this year.
Given the new regulations and policies set to come into effect in the next month, other policies changes, regarding negative COVID-19 test requirements and essential travel vaccination requirements, are anticipated.
Although Canadians do not need to take a COVID-19 test before entering the United States via the land border, when returning to Canada, a COVID-19 test is required to avoid quarantine. Some commentators have been calling for Canada to remove the COVID-19 test requirement for avoiding quarantine, as the test discourages shorter trips to the United States. Around half of all Canadian travel to the United States in 2019 consisted of day trips and many will be discouraged from participating in shorter trips because of the testing requirement. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair was questioned about the testing requirement and suggested short-term travellers take a PCR test in Canada, as results are valid for border crossing purposes for up to 72 hours. However, PCR COVID-19 tests for travel purposes can be costly and wait times for results unpredictable. As it stands, a negative COVID-19 test result to avoid quarantining serves as an impediment to short-term travel to the United States. It remains to be seen if the Canadian government will change its policy.
Currently, non-vaccinated essential workers are permitted to cross the border. However, this may be subject to change in the months following the border opening. In January, essential workers travelling into the United States by land will need to be fully vaccinated. At the moment, Canada has not announced vaccination requirements for essential workers in the U.S. travelling into Canada by land, but officials have indicated they are considering making vaccinations mandatory for essential travellers to enter the country.
Regulations change rapidly in the COVID-19 pandemic era, and misinformation can result in disappointing and expensive travel delays. Before contemplating travel for business or pleasure, it is important to ensure compliance with the latest regulations in the destination country or region. More information regarding the changing United States air travel regulations will be revealed in the coming weeks. The immigration lawyers at Garson Immigration Law continue to monitor the immigration fallout in relation to COVID-19 on both sides of the border and will provide updates as the situation develops. Follow our blog for the latest information.
Garson Immigration Law in Toronto, is exclusively dedicated to the practice of immigration law. For questions about immigration restrictions due to COVID-19, essential worker classification status, or complying with changing regulations, contact us online or call us at 416-321-2860.