BlogCanada further eases pandemic travel restrictions

27 October 2020

About the Author

On March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic. A few COVID-19 cases had already been confirmed in Canada by late January 2020, but the declaration of March 11 reinforced the seriousness of the outbreak and the consequences that were likely to follow.

Within a week Canada had implemented its first travel restriction order effective March 18, 2020 under the Quarantine Act to prohibit international travel into Canada from any country other than the United States. Two days later on March 20, 2020 newly implemented restrictions extended to travellers coming from the United States too. Since that time, the international travel restrictions have slowly been relaxed for travellers seeking to enter Canada, especially for those who are travelling to be reunited with loved ones.

The initial travel restrictions introduced in March 2020 were strict and made it difficult for travellers to come to Canada. They were also hard to understand because there were different rules that applied depending on where the traveller was coming from. Those early versions of the travel restrictions prohibited travellers coming from outside the United States (Non-US travellers) to enter Canada to reunite with loved ones unless they could show that they were “immediate family members” of Canadian citizens or permanent residents, which were narrowly defined to include spouses or common-law partners and dependants. Alternatively, non-US travellers had to obtain special written approval from the government if they sought entry to Canada for family reunification purposes but did not fall within the narrow definition of being immediate family members of Canadian citizens or permanent residents.

On the other hand, travellers coming from the United States (US travellers) were prohibited from entering Canada if they were travelling for an “optional” or “discretionary purpose”. Unfortunately for those US travellers, during the early stages of the pandemic any proposed trip to reunite with loved ones in Canada was often viewed as optional and discretionary and many people were turned away for this reason. This occurred even to US travellers who were immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents because the travel restrictions applicable to US travellers did not include a clear exemption to allow immediate family members to enter Canada.

These travel restrictions began to relax by June 8, 2020 when the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) announced that the definition of “immediate family members” had been broadened to include guardians and tutors, as well as parents or step-parents of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident or of their spouse (in-laws). Furthermore, the travel restrictions applicable to US travellers were amended to include a clearly written exemption allowing immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents to enter Canada, without having to argue for their entry on a case-by-case basis depending on the purpose of their trip.

The travel restrictions were further relaxed on October 2, 2020 when Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced the new “extended family members” category of travellers who could come to Canada to reunite with loved ones. This broad category includes non-dependent children, grandchildren, grandparents and siblings of Canadian citizens or permanent residents and even people who are in an exclusive dating relationship with a Canadian citizen or permanent resident for at least a year.

Just as Canadians have adjusted to life during the pandemic over these past seven months and businesses slowly began to reopen in this new normal, so too has our government begun to reopen the country to international travellers, especially those seeking to reunite with loved ones living in Canada. These efforts should be applauded. With the holiday season fast approaching, however, and with “COVID fatigue” setting in for many people, the demand to travel to Canada can be expected to increase. The government should continue to take a slow and measured approach when it comes to relaxing the international travel restrictions that are in place in order to balance the need to facilitate family reunification against the need to protect the health and wellbeing of all Canadians.

With concerns that Canada is already experiencing a second wave of the pandemic, it may be some time again until the international travel restrictions are further relaxed for family reunification or other purposes. Travellers who are thinking about coming to Canada should familiarize themselves with the most up-to-date travel restrictions and apply early for their visas or electronic travel authorizations if they are eligible to travel.

About the Author

Sas and Ing Immigration Law Centre LLP

A partnership between Catherine Sas Law Corporation and Victor Ing Law Corporation

Copyright © sasanding 2021

About the Author