While both Canada and the U.S. struggle to slow the spread of COVID-19 in both countries, several travel restrictions have been implemented over the past several weeks. One of those restrictions has been the decision to close the border between Canada and the United States to all but essential travel for an indefinite period. The decision to close the border was announced by both Prime Minister Trudeau and President Trump by mutual agreement on March 18th, and the policy took effect on March 20th.

This closure has left people with many questions about the length of time the restrictions will be in place, as well as how essential vs. non-essential travel is being determined at the border. Below, we will outline the information that has been provided in an attempt to provide clarity wherever possible.

Restrictions Will Not Be Lifted Anytime Soon: Prime Minister

When the border closure was first announced on March 18th, Prime Minister Trudeau indicated that the protocol would be temporary but did not provide an estimate for when the restriction would be lifted. Nearly a month after the initial announcement, the Prime Minister again spoke on the subject on April 14th, when he addressed questions about when the country could expect things to “get back to normal”.

With respect to the border issue specifically, the Prime Minister said that the current restrictions are likely to remain in place for several more weeks, saying:

In regards to the American border, travel restrictions are going to remain extremely important in terms of containing the spread of COVID-19 in Canada, and we’re going to continue to work with the Americans and people around the world to ensure that we continue with these restrictions.

The current agreement between the countries regarding the closure of the border currently extends to May 21st, and must be renewed before then, however it remains to be seen how long it will be extended for.

Essential vs. Non-Essential Travel

One of the key issues that the closure has raised is how border officials will determine essential vs. non-essential travel. This appears largely to be decided on a case-by-case basis, though anyone attempting to cross the border for tourism or recreational purposes can expect to be turned away.

The U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Canada website has provided some clarity on what is considered essential for those entering the U.S. from Canada:

  • Citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the U.S.
  • Individuals travelling to receive medical treatment in the U.S.
  • Individuals travelling to attend educational institutions
  • Individuals travelling to work in the U.S.
  • Individuals travelling to assist with emergency response or public health matters
  • Individuals engaged in lawful cross-border trade (e.g. transport truck drivers)
  • Individuals travelling for government, diplomatic or military purposes

One key point stressed by both Canada and the U.S. is that shipments, trade and commerce will not be affected by the travel restrictions in an effort to protect the supply chain on both sides of the border.

It should be noted that while travel for the purpose of assisting with medical or health care is currently permitted, some are starting to question whether health care providers should be allowed to travel between the two countries. In a recent article in the National Post, a former chief diplomatic officer in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s policy office noted that there is pressure on both sides of the border to restrict health-care workers from crossing the border in order to further limit the spread of the virus.

“Credible Quarantine Plan” Required for Anyone Returning to Canada

In his comments on April 14th, the Prime Minister also announced tighter restrictions for those returning to Canada, effective midnight on April 15th. Anyone returning to Canada from abroad will now be required to present a “credible quarantine plan” or they will be forced to spend their first 14 days in the country in a government-provided quarantine location, such as a hotel. This follows a previous policy implemented in March under the Quarantine Act which required anyone returning to Canada to self-isolate for 14 days.

A credible plan would require that the person have somewhere they can go that would not put anyone vulnerable at risk, where they can isolate for the required period. If, for example, the plan included sharing accommodations with elderly or immunocompromised relatives, the plan would not be considered credible.

The response on both sides of the border is continuing to evolve at a rapid pace. The immigration lawyers at Garson Immigration Law continue to monitor changes closely and will provide ongoing updates as the situation changes. If you have questions about how COVID-19 might impact your business’s immediate and long-range immigration needs, or an existing or in-progress work permit, please reach out to the immigration lawyers at Garson Immigration Law by contacting us online or by calling us at 416-321-2860.

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