The global COVID-19 pandemic has led to many changes impacting global travel and immigration. In efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, the Canadian government has released temporary policies including travel bans, exemptions, and processing restrictions in order to decrease the number of travellers arriving in Canada.
While each individual’s circumstances will be unique, we have partnered with Canada’s oldest and largest immigration law practice, Green and Spiegel LLP to provide answers to some frequently asked questions regarding immigration to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. This article reflects the laws and policies in place at the time of publishing and is current as of April 24, 2020. For an up to date account of the current situation, we encourage you to check the government of Canada’s website.
Q: Which foreign nationals are currently permitted to travel to Canada?
In an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, on March 18, 2020, the Government of Canada implemented restrictions on the categories of foreign nationals authorized to travel to Canada. Currently, no foreign national travelling from outside of the United States may enter Canada unless they fall within one of the exemptions to this ban.
An extensive list of exemptions was released on March 26, 2020. The following are notable examples of those foreign nationals seeking entry to Canada from outside the United States, who are exempt from the travel ban:
- A holder of a valid work permit or a work permit approval letter.
- A holder of a valid study permit, or a study permit approval letter issued on or before March 18, 2020.
- A holder of a Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) document issued on or before March 18, 2020.
- A person authorized in writing by a Consular Officer of the Government of Canada, to enter Canada for the purposes of reuniting with immediate family members.
- An immediate family member of a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident (PR).
There are additional exceptions for those whose presence is in the national interest or those providing medical, emergency, and other essential services.
While there is no similar list for those entering from the United States, many of those who meet the above categories will have a strong case for admission provided they demonstrate entry is not optional or discretionary. Despite these exemptions, no foreign national will be admitted to Canada if they are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, or if their purpose of entry is optional or discretionary.
Q: If a foreign national holds a valid work permit or work permit approval letter and is travelling with their spouse and/or children, will the spouse and/or children also be permitted to travel to Canada?
If travelling from outside the United States, the family members of a foreign national holding a work permit or work permit approval letter may be permitted to travel to Canada with the foreign national provided that their purpose for entry is not optional or discretionary, and that each holds:
- a work permit or work permit approval letter, or
- a study permit or study permit approval letter issued on or before March 18, 2020.
Family members who do not hold one of the above documents must request written authorization from a Consular Official once the primary worker has arrived in Canada. If granted, the remaining family members can travel to Canada to reunite with the primary worker. If travelling from the United States, accompanying family members of a worker relocating to Canada should be granted admission.
Q: My temporary resident status is about to expire and I am currently in Canada. What should I do?
All foreign nationals in Canada must maintain valid immigration status. Status as a worker, student, or visitor must be extended prior to the expiry date. Temporary Residents are encouraged to apply to renew their status six months ahead of the expiry of their status, in light of processing delays that may occur.
Q. What documents can I use to show that I am authorized to travel to Canada?
In addition, travellers seeking entry to Canada from outside of the United States must demonstrate how they fall within one of the exemptions to the travel ban. This can be done by showing documents such as:
- Valid work permit or work permit approval notice and updated confirmation of job offer, for workers or returning workers.
- Valid study permit or study permit approval notice for students or returning students.
- Valid Confirmation of Permanent Residence document.
- Valid Permanent Resident Card or Permanent Resident Travel Document, for Permanent Residents of Canada.
- Documents demonstrating your relationship to a Canadian Citizen or Permanent Resident, and evidence of that family members’ status in Canada.
In any case, any foreign national seeking entry to Canada must demonstrate their purpose for entry is not optional or discretionary.
Q: What are my obligations upon entering Canada?
Unless exempt, every international traveller including Canadian citizens and Permanent Residents must comply with Canada’s mandatory, 14-day self-isolation requirement. Provinces may have their own requirements for domestic travellers. There are limited exemptions to these requirements.
Upon arrival to Canada, a Border Services Officer will ask any traveller for a plan detailing how they will comply with Canada’s self-isolation requirements (or proof of exemption). A self-isolation plan should include information on where the traveller will reside, how they will arrive at their destination, and how they will access food, medication, cleaning supplies, etc. If a satisfactory plan cannot be demonstrated, the traveler may be denied entry to Canada, or be quarantined in a facility designated by the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada.
Q. What to expect in this new era of travel?
Foreign nationals who must travel should ensure they are well documented for travel in light of the COVID-19 situation. They should ensure that documents demonstrating compliance with at least one of the exemptions to the travel ban are readily accessible in a non-electronic format, and have a detailed self-isolation plan, as outlined above. Travellers should understand that this is an unprecedented time for international carriers, and be prepared for delays and cancellations.
Prior to boarding their flights, all air passengers five years of age or older are required to test negative for COVID-19 before travelling to Canada. Documentation of a negative COVID-19 molecular polymerase chain reaction (or PCR) test result must be presented to the airline prior to boarding a flight to Canada. The test must be taken within 72 hours prior to the traveller’s scheduled departure to Canada. Please note that everyone with a negative test result authorized to enter Canada is required to have a quarantine plan and must still complete the full, mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Each traveller will also be required to disclose whether they have been refused boarding in the past 14 days due to a COVID-19 related medical reason. As of April 20, 2020, all airline passengers must wear a non-medical mask or face covering to cover their mouth and nose at all times when instructed by airline personnel and when appropriate physical distancing measures cannot be maintained. Travellers without a suitable face covering may be denied boarding.
To account for unanticipated delays, travellers should ensure they arrive at the airport well in advance of their scheduled departure time and be prepared for delays and cancellations.
Q. I am an international student who has been accepted to a designated learning institution in Canada for September 2020. Can I apply for a study permit?
Applicants are not precluded from applying for study permits at this time. However the Government of Canada has instructed all study permit applications to be made online until at least April 29, 2020. As the majority of Visa Application Centres remain closed, once submitted, applicants will face delays in providing their biometric data, and difficulties providing their passports for visa issuance. To account for these delays, IRCC has automatically extended the biometric collection timelines from 30 to 90 days. Applicants should monitor the website of the VAC responsible for their place of residence for operational updates.
To be eligible for travel to Canada, a foreign national planning to enter from outside the United States must hold a study permit approval notice issued on or before March 18, 2020.
Learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on international students in Canada.
Q. If I apply for a study permit and my program is postponed, or if I am unable to travel due to COVID-19 restrictions, can I recover my tuition deposit? What if my study permit is refused?
In many cases, tuition deposits are non-refundable. Prospective students should ensure they confirm their institution’s refund policy for such deposits prior to transferring their deposit.
Q: I am an international student currently studying in Canada. My classes have now been moved to an online format because of COVID-19. Will this affect my eligibility for a Post-Graduate Work Permit (PGWP)?
IRCC has acknowledged this unique situation and has accepted that many institutions are moving to online learning as an extraordinary measure. Eligibility for the PGWP won’t be impacted by an international student’s in-class courses being delivered online due to the spread of COVID-19.
An announcement made on February 12, 2021, by IRCC highlighted that international students completing their studies online, outside Canada, will be eligible for a future PGWP.
These new measures apply to all international students who:
- Are enrolled in a PGWP-eligible program;
- Began, or will begin, a program in any semester from spring 2020 to fall 2021, or whose program was already in progress in March 2020;
- Have a study permit or approval for a study permit, or applied for a study permit prior to starting their program and are eventually approved; and
- Meet all other PGWP criteria.
Q. Will Express Entry draws continue to be held?
Express Entry draws have been held periodically since COVID-19 measures were announced. However these draws have targeted candidates meeting the criteria of the Provincial Nominee Class, and Canadian Experience Class. IRCC has not indicated that they intend to halt Express Entry draws under the Federal Skilled Worker program; however they appear to be prioritizing applicants already within Canada. For latest updates, applicants can monitor IRCC’s Express Entry draws.
Q. My Confirmation of Permanent Residence document expires soon but I’m unable to come to Canada due to travel restrictions in my home country. What can I do?
Applicants who are unable to travel to Canada due to COVID-19 travel restrictions before their documents’ expiry date should reach out to IRCC via the webform to advise why they cannot travel. Once travel becomes possible, these applicants should update IRCC and wait to receive further instructions.
Q. I have been invited to apply for Permanent Residence through Express Entry, but I’m unable to provide certain documents due to closures. How can I proceed?
IRCC has indicated that no applications will be closed or refused due to documentation outstanding due to COVID-19; files that are incomplete will be held for 90 days.
Permanent Resident applicants are now provided 90 days from the date of their Invitation to Apply to submit their Express Entry application. If an applicant is unable to provide a document before their due date, the applicant should include an explanation in their application outlining how they are impacted by COVID-19 related service disruptions. Applications that do not include this explanation, or which are incomplete due to non-COVID-19 related reasons, may be refused.
To avoid significant processing delays, applicants should provide any outstanding documents to IRCC as soon as possible once they become available.
While the COVID-19 global pandemic has changed the current landscape regarding immigration and relocation planning, IRCC has been responsive to this scenario, publishing policy updates and announcements almost daily. Because of this, Canada’s already dynamic immigration system has and continues to change rapidly.
Prior to planning travel to Canada, applicants should ensure that they are familiar with the new requirements for international travellers seeking entry to Canada, and their obligations upon arrival. For those applicants who are interested in international relocation, now is a great time to reach out to an authorized immigration representative for more information on their immigration options.
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The information provided in this article is general, is subject to frequent changes and does not constitute legal advice. For specific immigration legal advice that you can rely on, please contact Green and Spiegel.
About Green and Spiegel:
Green and Spiegel is Canada’s largest and oldest immigration law practice with over 50 years of experience assisting a diverse global clientele. They are headquartered in Toronto, Canada, with U.S. offices in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Providence, Rhode Island and Vail, Colorado. Green and Spiegel offers a full range of Canadian and American immigration services for employers, temporary workers, individuals and their families. With a staff of over 100 immigration professionals, they are able to offer services in over 30 different languages.
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