Between COVID and a new U.S. President, the immigration landscape between the U.S. and Canada has experienced both victories and challenges. Some of the major changes and roadblocks that have occurred over the past three months include:
COVID has not gone away. Despite the availability of vaccines, crossing the northern border continues to be challenging. While the U.S. is largely becoming more open, Canada remains extremely COVID cautious.
Challenges going into Canada include:
- Required reporting of certain information through Canada’s ArriveCAN app or online at https://arrivecan.cbsa-asfc.cloud-nuage.canada.ca/privacy
- Molecular COVID-19 testing prior to arrival and post-arrival (with limited exceptions)
- All entrants must present a quarantine plan upon arrival
- Mandatory isolation or quarantine is generally required for up to 2 weeks (with limited exceptions). Some travelers are required to complete a mandatory hotel stay of up to three days (or until on-arrival COVID testing results are received), and must pay for three days of hotel stay in a government-designated hotel, regardless of whether they actually are there for the entire time. Travelers who do not present appropriate evidence of COVID testing prior to arrival, who test positive for COVID upon arrival, or who do not present an appropriate quarantine plan may also be required to quarantine at a government quarantine facility. Most travelers are required to quarantine for up to two weeks upon entry, either at the previously discussed facilities, at home, or at a combination of these locations depending on their situation and circumstances.
- Fines at the border if travelers don’t meet COVID testing requirements for entry
In contrast, when entering the U.S.:
- Travelers are only required to complete (viral) COVID testing prior to a flight from Canada to the U.S. (not when driving into the U.S.)
- Many states have removed requirements for mandatory isolation or quarantine for international travelers from Canada
- Visitors (for tourism or recreation) are still restricted from traveling across the land border, but can fly into the U.S.
- Anyone with work authorization can enter by air, land, or sea to the U.S.
The Good News
- Even where travelers are subject to the above-listed restrictions, and quarantine and COVID testing requirements, certain individuals and professions may be eligible for an exemption. Canadian immigration lawyers can assist with obtaining opinion letters from the Canadian government on exemption eligibility, and/or prepare you to make an argument that you are exempt from restrictions and requirements.
- Businesspeople with U.S. work authorization (e.g., TN, L-1, H-1B, O-1, P-1, etc.) can still enter the U.S. largely just the same as they could pre-COVID. In fact, some businesspeople who previously did not hold work authorization have sought and obtained an appropriate work authorization over the past year to ensure their continued smooth entries to the U.S. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is still accepting and adjudicating certain types of applications for work authorized status by Canadians (i.e., TN, L-1) at the border, consistent with pre-COVID policies.
- Those without work authorization but seeking to merely visit the U.S. for business can still cross, however, the purposes of these entries have become highly scrutinized at the land borders so business visitors lacking work authorization may face extended wait times, additional inquiries, etc. at the border crossing.
- The Biden administration has abandoned the Trump-era policy putting intending U.S. immigrants and nonimmigrants under a financial microscope. The previous standard for financial sponsorship and obligations relating to immigrant and certain nonimmigrant benefits has been restored.
What’s on the Horizon?
Both the Canadian and U.S. governments are working to sustainably reduce the rates of COVID infection. With COVID vaccines anticipated to be available by the end of the year to everyone who wants or needs to obtain one (in both Canada and the U.S.), there is legitimate reason to be hopeful that current border restrictions will be lifted toward the end of this year or early next year, at the latest. There is also already discussion about the U.S. implementing some sort of “vaccine passport” or other designation that might exempt travelers from COVID testing and/or quarantine requirements in the future. At the end of March, New York launched America’s first “vaccine passport” to be used for entry at entertainment, arts, and events venues. If the ability to prove health status with a digital QR code becomes common practice, this could feasibly be applied to border entries and pre-clearance checks crossing the border. And if the U.S. successfully implements this program, it may make a similar move more palatable to Canadian leaders.
Beyond COVID, there is no doubt that immigration will remain a key focus of the current presidential administration. We will likely continue to see vast U.S. policy shifts with the new occupant in the Executive Office.
For more information on this topic, please contact Elizabeth M. Klarin, Partner at Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman LLP. She can be reached at 716.853.5100 ext. 1288 or firstname.lastname@example.org.