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Canada to restrict entry of most foreign travellers in response to COVID-19

Updated on March 18, 2020.

On March 16, 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that, among other things, Canada will temporarily restrict the entry of most travellers who are not citizens or permanent residents, as part of a series of far-reaching measures to respond to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). These measures will remain in place as long as is necessary to respond to the pandemic.

Barring entry of foreign nationals by air from all countries except the United States

  • Airlines will not allow travellers to board an international flight to Canada if they have been outside of Canada or the United States in the last 14 days, unless they are a Canadian citizen, permanent resident, or in transit to a third country.
  • Air crews, diplomats, immediate family members of Canadian citizens and U.S. citizens are exceptions from this measure.
  • The Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness has since clarified that foreign nationals who hold valid temporary residents visas, including those with work or study permits, may travel to Canada by air provided their flights originate from the United States and they are able to demonstrate that they have been physically present in the United States in the last 14 days.
  • This measure will come into force on March 18, 2020, at 12 p.m. (noon) EDT. This measure only applies to travel to Canada by air as its authority is derived under the Aeronautics Act. Surface traffic and marine shipping have not been affected by this measure.

Non-essential travel across the Canada – U.S. border to be suspended

  • Canada and the United States have agreed to restrict all non-essential travel across the border.
  • The restrictions are currently being negotiated, but essential travel necessary to maintain supply chains (e.g., food, energy, medicine and medical equipment), such as trucking, or for travellers crossing the border to perform essential work, will not be impacted.
  • All travel for the purposes of recreation and/or tourism will be prohibited.
  • The details of the agreement to restrict the entry of non-essential travel across the Canada – U.S. border, including the date on which it will become effective, are expected to be announced shortly.

Preventing symptomatic travellers from boarding international flights to Canada

  • Under the authority of the Aeronautics Act, air operators will be required to:
    • conduct a basic health assessment of all air travellers before they board a flight bound to Canada, based on guidance from Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC); and
    • deny boarding to any air traveller who exhibits COVID-19 symptoms, including Canadian citizens or permanent residents, for 14 days and a demonstration that they are non-symptomatic, or until a medical certificate is presented that confirms the traveller does not carry the virus.
  • Air operators must have these measures fully implemented by March 19, 2020, at 12:01 a.m. EDT.

Consolidating inbound international flights to four major Canadian hubs

  • International flights will only be permitted to land at the following airports:
    • Montréal – Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport
    • Toronto – Pearson International Airport
    • Calgary International Airport
    • Vancouver International Airport
  • Domestic flights and flights from the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Saint Pierre and Miquelon will not be impacted by this measure and may continue using existing routes.
  • This measure will come into effect on March 18, 2020 at 12:01 a.m. EDT.

All international travellers to self-isolate for 14 days

  • All travelers arriving in Canada from abroad are being asked to self-isolate for a period of 14 days, regardless of their citizenship. Workers who are deemed essential to the movement of goods and people will be exempt from this measure. The government is advising these workers to closely monitor themselves and immediately self-isolate should they have COVID-19 symptoms.

Enhanced support for Canadians impacted by travel restrictions

  • The government has previously encouraged Canadian travellers who wish to return to Canada to do so as quickly as possible. Canadians affected by COVID-19 abroad and unable to immediately return to Canada will be supported by a newly-established assistance program to fund expanded access to a range of support services abroad.

Takeaways for employers

  • The new travel restrictions will prohibit entry of most foreign nationals by air, subject to certain designated exceptions. Asymptomatic employees and/or their accompanying dependents who are currently outside of Canada and do not meet one of the designated exceptions to the travel ban are advised to immediately check what commercial options remain available to return to Canada before these measures take effect on Wednesday, March 18, 2020 at 12 p.m. (noon) EDT.
  • The situation remains fluid. Many countries have enacted measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, including travel bans (internal and external) and quarantines. New measures may be imposed at any time without advanced notice, including the closure of the Canada-U.S. border to “non-essential” travel.
  • Employers should advise their employees to avoid non-essential travel outside Canada, and require employees returning from outside Canada to self-isolate for 14 days and monitor for symptoms of COVID-19. Several governments have established online COVID-19 self-assessments, including British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta. Employers should also consult with public health authorities, which may have specific recommendations for certain groups of employees such as health care workers.
  • Employers will want to develop contingency plans for employees who are unable to return to Canada, or who are required to self-isolate for 14 days after coming back to Canada.

For immigration law advice with respect to workplace legal issues arising from COVID-19, please get in touch with our team listed below, who are ready and available to assist with navigating through these unprecedented times. BLG has also created a COVID-19 Resource Centre to assist businesses on a variety of topics, including contractual risks, public disclosure requirements, schools and criminal law.

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