CIMM - Travel Restrictions and Exemptions - Mar 10, 2021
- To prevent the importation of COVID-19 and its new variants, the Government of Canada has taken a multi-layered approach to protect the public health of Canadians, with the swift imposition of travel restrictions and the introduction of safety and prevention measures along the entire travel continuum, from pre-departure testing requirements to enhanced mandatory quarantine on arrival.
- Exemptions to the travel restrictions have supported the Canadian economy by allowing workers to enter, which has supported critical sectors like health care, transportation, and agriculture; supported the reunification of Canadians with family members; facilitated the arrival of some permanent residents and international students to Canada; and allowed for foreign nationals to enter Canada for compassionate reasons.
- Exemptions are not contingent upon an individual’s nationality and apply to all foreign nationals, including Hong Kong residents. The Government is aware that current travel restrictions prevent non-exempt persons from travelling to Canada, however, these necessary measures are in place to protect the health and safety of Canadians.
- Canadian citizens and permanent residents residing in Hong Kong are permitted to enter Canada, despite the travel restrictions.
- On January 7, 2021, the Government introduced mandatory pre-departure testing in the air mode. As such, all air travelers, with limited exemptions, over the age of five are required to present to the airline a negative laboratory test result for COVID-19 when boarding, conducted within 72 hours prior to their initial scheduled flight departure.
- Additional measures were introduced on February 21, 2021. Travelers arriving by air are required, prior to departure, to reserve a three-night stay at a Government-authorized accommodation and, upon arrival, to take a COVID-19 molecular test and quarantine at their reserved accommodation, at their own expense, while awaiting the results of their test. If a traveler’s test result is positive, they will be transferred to a PHAC-designated quarantine facility or other suitable place. If a traveler’s test result is negative, they may be released to finish the remainder of their 14-day quarantine at a suitable location.
- Hong Kong residents as a cohort are not exempt from, and must comply with, these requirements. Unless an individual falls under one of the very limited exemptions available, they could be denied boarding for not complying with the pre-departure testing requirements and could be ticketed for not complying with post-arrival testing and quarantine requirements.
- Immigration continues to be a priority for the Government of Canada as it is key to this country’s future as we work to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. I can assure you that any decisions relating to the easing of travel restrictions will be balanced, and done in a phased manner, to ensure that the health and safety of Canadians are protected.
[If pressed: responsive lines on Hong Kong]
Hong Kong residents denied boarding
- We recognize that the travel restrictions are complex and may be challenging to navigate. Only foreign nationals who are exempt from the restrictions may travel to Canada at this time. More information on the current travel exemptions can be found on the Government of Canada’s website.
National interest exemptions for Hong Kong residents
- For privacy reasons, we cannot share information about national interest exemptions that may have been provided to specific Hong Kong residents.
Open work permits for Hong Kong youth and border restrictions
- Current travel restrictions mean some Hong Kong residents abroad applying for the open work permit may not be able to travel to Canada at this time, unless they have an active and current job offer or meet another travel exemption and comply with all public health requirements.
Hong Kong residents and pre-departure/post-arrival testing and quarantine requirements
- Pre-departure and post arrival testing and quarantine requirements apply to all travelers, including Canadian citizens, permanent residents and Hong Kong residents, with very limited exceptions.
Orders in Council
- Three Orders in Council (OICs) under the Quarantine Act currently set out the parameters of the travel restrictions and requirements for quarantine, isolation and other obligations upon entry to Canada. Canadian citizens, persons registered under the Indian Act, permanent residents, and protected persons are not subject to entry restrictions.
- The Order in Council for travelers entering Canada from the United States restricts all foreign nationals from entering Canada if their purpose of travel is for a discretionary or optional purpose, unless exempted from that requirement. Foreign nationals with approved permanent residence applications and who are seeking entry to Canada from the United States in order to establish themselves here are permitted entry to Canada under this Order in Council on the basis that their travel is deemed non-discretionary. Foreign nationals are prohibited from entry to Canada if they are symptomatic of COVID-19.
- The Order in Council for travelers entering Canada from a country other than the United States restricts all foreign nationals from entering Canada if they do not meet one of the listed exemptions (see below) and are travelling for a discretionary or optional purpose (unless exempted from that requirement). No foreign nationals are authorized to enter Canada if they are symptomatic of COVID-19.
- The Quarantine, Isolation, and Other Obligations Order in Council requires all individuals traveling to Canada undertake pre- and post-arrival testing as well as mandatory quarantine measures, unless exempt, as detailed below.
Enhanced testing and quarantine requirements for air travelers
- In light of the emergence of new variants of COVID-19, the Government introduced additional public health measures for those entering Canada by air. As of January 6, 2021, all individuals over the age of five that are traveling to Canada via air are required to present a negative COVID-19 molecular test—including either a molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or a reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) test—to the airline before boarding (or a positive test result for a specimen collected at least 14 days and no more than 90 days before entering Canada). The negative test must be conducted within 72 hours prior to the flight’s initial scheduled departure. This applies to both Canadians and foreign nationals.
- There are exemptions to the requirement, including for: air and marine crews; individuals entering Canada to provide essential services as defined by the Chief Public Health Officer; individuals whose presence in Canada is in the national interest as determined by the Minister of Health; and individuals exempt from the requirement to provide a COVID test under the Aeronautics Act.
- All individuals entering Canada are still required to present a satisfactory quarantine plan to the Border Services officer upon their arrival and to quarantine for a period of 14 days upon entry, unless otherwise exempt, as dictated by the conditions outlined below.
- On January 29, 2021, the Government announced enhanced testing and quarantine requirements for those traveling to Canada via air. All travelers arriving via air, with limited exceptions, will be required, prior to departure, to reserve a three-night stay at a Government-authorized accommodation and, upon arrival, take a COVID-19 molecular test and quarantine at their reserved accommodation, generally at their own expense, while awaiting the results of their test. If a traveler’s test result is positive, they will be transferred to a PHAC‑designated quarantine facility or other suitable place. If a traveler’s test result is negative, they may be released to finish the remainder of their 14-day quarantine at a suitable place of quarantine. These requirements came into force on February 21, 2021.
Exemptions to travel restrictions
- Certain amendments have been made to the above-mentioned OICs prohibiting entry from the U.S. and from countries other than the U.S. to allow for travel for the purpose of reuniting immediate family members, for essential economic purposes or for compassionate reasons. Other exemptions have been established in support of Canada’s economy and the well-being of Canadians, including for international students, workers, extended family members, and accredited amateur athletes.
Exemptions to overcome entry prohibitions are also available, on a case-by-case basis, to individuals or classes of persons seeking to enter Canada from any country other than the U.S., if the purpose of travel is deemed to be in the national interest.
These exemptions have been granted in a phased manner, which allows for carefully managed entry to Canada in a way that prioritizes the safety of Canadians and minimizes public health risks. Exemptions to current border measures are not based on nationality; therefore, if Hong Kong residents meet the requirements of an exemption; they will not be prohibited entry under the OICs.
- All individuals entering Canada under an exemption to travel restrictions are still subject to pre-departure testing requirements, on arrival testing, a three-day stay at a government-approved accommodation, and a mandatory 14-day quarantine with a second test required during quarantine, as laid out in the Quarantine, Isolation, and Other Obligations Order in Council, unless otherwise exempt.
Permanent residence applicants
- The Order in Council restricting entry of foreign nationals from a country other than the U.S. includes an exemption for foreign nationals whose applications for permanent residence were approved and who received written notice of the approval prior to March 18, 2020, provided they are entering for a purpose that is non-optional and non-discretionary. In addition, approved permanent residence applicants entering Canada from the U.S. are not prohibited entry, regardless of the date on which their application was approved, provided they are entering for a non-optional or non-discretionary purpose. Intending to take up permanent residence in Canada is considered non-optional/non-discretionary travel by the Canada Border Services Agency.
- As of January 31, 2021, there are approximately 40,600 clients residing overseas, the majority of which (about 29,500 or 73%) are ineligible to travel due to the current travel restrictions or because of invalid travel documents. Even if they are not all able to travel right away, this inventory continues to grow as applications continue to be processed within the Department’s current capacity. This inventory includes skilled immigrants, spouses and family members that would be reunited with their Canadian relative, privately sponsored refugees, and others. The facilitation of these new permanent residents to Canada is key to the country’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
- In 2020, approximately 1,046 Hong Kong residents were landed as permanent residents. This presents approximately a 34% decrease from 2019.
- IRCC has been made aware of cases wherein foreign nationals, including Hong Kong residents, were approved for permanent residence after March 18, 2020, who attempted to travel to Canada from overseas, and were denied boarding on the basis of current travel restrictions. IRCC is working with clients, as well as Global Affairs Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency, to navigate the travel restrictions currently in place and facilitate the entry of clients to Canada where appropriate and possible.
- Since Canada’s border restrictions came into force in March 2020, immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents have been able to enter Canada if their purpose of travel was non-optional/non-discretionary. In June 2020, the Government of Canada updated its directives to further facilitate family reunification while respecting all public health protocols and measures. At that time, immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, such as spouses, common-law partners, dependent children and parents became exempt from the non-discretionary travel restrictions if coming for 15 days or more.
- On October 8, 2020, extended family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents became exempt from the non-discretionary travel restrictions if coming for 15 days or more. Extended family members include adults in an exclusive dating relationship (must be at least 18 years of age, in a relationship of at least one year in duration, and have had prior physical contact), adult children (22 years of age and older), grandparents, and siblings.
- On October 31, 2020, these provisions were updated to ensure immediate and extended family members of persons registered as Indians under the Indian Act are also eligible to travel to Canada.
Temporary foreign workers
- Temporary foreign workers are exempt from the travel restrictions when travelling for a non-discretionary purpose; and, if travelling from outside the United States, they must hold a work permit or letter of introduction (letter attesting that a work permit application has been approved).
- The exemption for foreign workers recognizes the important role that temporary workers play in critical sectors of Canada’s economy, including in agriculture, food processing and health care. Applications received from essential workers are being processed on a priority basis.
- Foreign nationals, including Hong Kong residents, who have been approved for an open work permit, who hold a letter of introduction attesting that a work permit application has been approved, must also demonstrate that their travel is for a non-discretionary purpose. This would require, for example, that foreign nationals have a valid job offer and are able to work once they enter Canada and have completed the mandatory 14-day quarantine.
- Current travel restrictions mean some Hong Kong residents abroad applying for the open work permit may not be able to travel to Canada at this time, unless they have an active and current job offer or meet another travel exemption and comply with all public health requirements. Prioritizing work permit applications from Hong Kong residents and assuring them of a pathway to permanent residence will give them assurance and time to plan for a move to Canada once the restrictions are lifted.
- Temporary foreign workers traveling to Canada by air are subject to the pre-departure testing requirement, with limited exceptions and allowances for alternative testing protocols.
- On October 8, 2020, Canada introduced a new process to allow foreign nationals to enter the country for compassionate reasons, such as:
- Being present during the final moments of life for a loved one;
- Providing support to a person deemed critically ill;
- Providing care to a person who medically requires support; or
- Attending a funeral or end-of-life ceremony.
- In addition, a process has been created to allow foreign nationals seeking entry on compassionate grounds to apply for a modified release from the mandatory quarantine, in cases where the 14-day quarantine period is not feasible (e.g. urgent palliative care or end-of-life visits). Foreign nationals will need to get authorization from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) to travel to and enter Canada for a compassionate reason.
- Individuals arriving by air who make an asylum claim upon arrival are exempted from the requirement to submit a pre-departure COVID-19 molecular test. They will be required to meet the same pre-travel requirement to reserve a three-night stay at a Government authorized accommodation to await their test results as all other travelers before proceeding to their suitable quarantine location, or will be transferred to an IRCC facility if they do not have a suitable location to quarantine.
- All asylum claimants will also be required to meet the same post-arrival testing requirements as all other travelers.
- As of October 20, 2020, study permit holders and those approved for a study permit are exempt from the travel restrictions as long as they are attending a listed institution under the Orders in Council that has been determined by the relevant province or territory to be ready to support students from a public health perspective. The list of these institutions can be found on IRCC’s website. As of February 23, 2021, 953 post-secondary learning institutions had been approved to receive international students. In addition, most provinces and territories had provided approval to receive K-12 international students.
- International students, in particular post-secondary and accompanied minor students, travelling to Canada are subject to, and are expect to comply with, the additional travel and quarantine measures. Once cleared to leave the government authorized accommodations, they can proceed to their quarantine destination, as directed by their designated learning institutions COVID readiness plan, for the remaining 14 days.
- On October 31, 2020, approval was granted to exempt cross-border students (both K-12 and post-secondary) from a perpetual state of quarantine, as long as the institution they attend is a listed institution and that the provincial and local public health authorities have indicated that the institution is authorized to accommodate exempted students.
- In general, current measures prohibit the entry of study permit exempt foreign nationals, including those who seek to attend a course of study of less than six months. However, foreign nationals can apply for a study permit for short-term programs. If they have a study permit, they will be allowed entry as long as they are seeking to enter to attend an institution that has been determined by the relevant province or territory to have an approved COVID-19 readiness plan in place.
- Students who are asymptomatic, abide by pre-departure testing requirements, have the appropriate travel documents to enter Canada, and are destined to a Designated Learning Institution on the approved list of institutions will generally be considered to be non-discretionary and non-optional; however, the final decision as to purpose of travel rests with CBSA officers at ports of entry.
- Adult students and accompanied minor students are not exempt from the requirement to stay at a Government-approved accommodation for three days prior to proceeding to their suitable quarantine location.
- Unaccompanied minor international students are required to comply with pre-departure COVID-19 molecular test requirements. They are required to comply with post-arrival testing, but do so by way of an alternative testing protocol. They are exempt from the requirement to quarantine in a Government-approved accommodation and are allowed to proceed to their suitable quarantine destination with two test kits, one to be administered on Day 1 and the other on Day 10.
- On November 30, 2020, the Government of Canada introduced a new process for foreign nationals wishing to enter Canada as a high-performance athlete taking part in or a person engaging in an essential role in relation to an international single sport event.
- Under this process, authorized athletes and support personnel are exempt from the entry restrictions if they obtain a letter of authorization from the Deputy Minister of the Department of Canadian Heritage. They may also be exempted from quarantine requirements under the QIO.
- A foreign national will only be authorized to enter Canada under this process if they receive ongoing support from local public health authorities and provincial/territorial governments. Foreign nationals with letters of authorization must still meet the relevant travel document requirements in order to enter Canada.
National interest exemptions
- Under the above-mentioned Orders in Council, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, the Minister of Public Safety, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs have the authority to grant individual or class-based exemptions to persons whose presence in Canada is determined to be in the national interest. These authorities include:
- Exemptions from entry restrictions for individuals or classes of individuals travelling to Canada from any country other than the United States;
- Exemptions from quarantine requirements for individuals or classes of individuals who are authorized to travel to Canada; and
- Exemptions to allow entry to Canada from the United States at a land border for an individual for the purpose of making a claim for refugee protection where it is determined to that such entry is in the national or public interest.
- Travelers granted exemptions for entry must still comply with quarantine requirements, unless specifically exempt from these requirements. All travelers are still subject to pre-departure testing requirements, unless otherwise exempt.
- Clients who believe they may qualify for an exemption on national interest grounds are required to request an exemption for entry and/or quarantine. Each case is thoroughly analyzed to ensure it is in Canada’s national interest to grant an individual or class of individuals exemptions from current border measures.
- When individuals or classes of persons are exempted from normal quarantine requirements (including the mandatory stay in a Government-approved accommodation) on national interest grounds, they are still required to meet the conditions of that exemption, which may include following specific public health measures to safeguard the health and safety of Canadians, such as limiting the number of close contacts, social distancing, and masking.
- As of January 31, 2021, IRCC authorized approximately 2,170 individual national interest exemptions (NIEs) for entry to Canada from countries other than the United States. These exemptions were primarily issued for business visitors supporting critical infrastructure, and to facilitate the urgent resettlement of refugees. IRCC has also used the exemption to facilitate entry of family members of the victims of Ukrainian Airlines flight PS752 and for other exceptional circumstances on a case-by-case basis.
- As of February 17, 2021, IRCC has granted seven class-based NIEs to professional sports leagues for exemption from normal quarantine requirements. These NIEs have been granted to staff, players, and third-party vendors to the National Hockey League, staff and players of Major League Baseball, and staff and players of Major League Soccer. These NIEs applied to approximately 1,916 individuals.
- As of January 31, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada has granted seven exemptions for entry to allow for individuals to make a claim for refugee protection at the land border.
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