COVID-19: Immigration update as of March 25, 2020

March 25, 2020 | Veronica K. Choy, Mabel Kyei

For entry into Canada

Mandatory quarantines for International Travellers

Effective March 25, 2020 at 12:01 EDT, all travellers returning to Canada, with the exception of essential workers, are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine pursuant to the Quarantine Act.

Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers will inform all returning Canadians and permanent residents of the new orders and tell them to go straight home. Travellers will be forbidden from taking city buses, trains and subways. Those arriving at one of the four international airports currently open (in Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver and Calgary) and connecting, will be asked to quarantined in place at those cities for 14 days and will be provided accommodation and meals for those situations.

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu stated that no one will be permitted to quarantine anywhere in close contact with vulnerable people (e.g. with an elderly family member or someone with a compromised immune system), and Public Health Agency of Canada will make arrangements for those travellers to stay in temporary accommodations.

CBSA will be taking contact information for all individuals entering Canada, and the government will be enforcing random inspections with the potential for fines and/or arrests for people in violation of the requirement.

Travel Restrictions Update – Travel for Temporary Residents

On March 20, 2020, the Government of Canada confirmed that exemptions to the air travel restrictions will apply to foreign nationals who have already committed to working, studying or making Canada their home. Travel by these individuals will be considered essential travel for land border restrictions.

The announced exemptions include:

  • Seasonal agricultural workers, fish/seafood workers, caregivers and all other temporary foreign workers;
  • International students who held a valid study permit, or had been approved for a study permit, when the travel restrictions took effect on March 18, 2020; and
  • Permanent resident applicants who had been approved for permanent residence before the travel restrictions were announced on March 16, 2020, but who had not yet travelled to Canada.

However, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has stated that the travel exemptions announced on March 20, 2020 are not yet in effect for temporary foreign workers, international students or approved permanent residents that have not yet landed in Canada.

These individuals are advised not to travel before an announcement is made by the Government of Canada.

Only Canadian citizens, permanent residents and some foreign nationals travelling from the United States, who have been in the US for at least 14 days and are asymptomatic, are able to enter Canada by air at this time (with limited exceptions).

Travel Restrictions Update – Immediate Family Members

The Interim Order to Prevent Certain Persons from Boarding Flights to Canada due to COVID-19, No. 2 has broadened the definition of immediate family members authorized to travel to Canada with Canadians and permanent residents. The list now includes:

(a) the spouse or common-law partner of the person;

(b) a dependent child of the person or of the person’s spouse or common-law partner;

(c) a dependent child of a dependent child referred to in paragraph (b);

(d) the parent or step-parent of the person or of the person’s spouse or common-law partner; and

(e) the guardian or tutor of the person.

Where the immediate family member is a parent or step-parent, the foreign national child’s age is not a factor and there is no requirement to establish dependency.

The Canadian citizen or permanent resident family member’s physical location is not a factor. They may be in Canada, in another country or accompanying the foreign national.

Travellers are expected to self-identify to airlines at the point of boarding that they are exempt under this provision by presenting documentation to establish their family member’s Canadian citizenship or permanent resident status and their relationship to that family member.

Returning Canadians and Permanent Residents

On March 24, 2020, Prime Minister Trudeau reiterated continued efforts to bring Canadians home from around the world.

A spokesperson for CBSA stated that between March 14, 2020 and March 20, 2020, 956,600 Canadians and 43,890 permanent residents returned to Canada, with more expected to return in the coming days as Canada arranges flights for travellers stranded abroad by travel restrictions. On March 23, 2020, Prime Minister Trudeau confirmed flights have been arranged in the coming days from Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

The government continues to advise those in Canada to avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice. Exit bans are becoming more frequent, and new restrictions may be imposed with little warning. Travel plans may be severely disrupted, and individuals may be forced to remain outside of Canada longer than expected.

Canadians abroad are encouraged to sign up with the Registration of Canadians Abroad service to stay connected with the Government of Canada in case of an emergency abroad or at home.

Agriculture and Food Processing Employers

A temporary modification is being made to the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) process for agriculture and food processing employers, as the required two-week recruitment period will be waived for the next six months.

The government is also increasing the maximum allowable employment duration for workers in the low-wage LMIA stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program from one year to two years. This is intended to improve flexibility and reduce the administrative burden for employers, including those in food processing.

Furthermore, the air travel restrictions should not impact temporary foreign workers in agriculture, agri-food, seafood processing and other key industries, recognizing that the arrival of farm workers and fish/seafood workers is essential to work on farms and at food processing plants. However, similar to the foreign workers, international students and approved permanent residents, these individuals should not travel to Canada immediately. The government will announce when the exemptions are in place, which they anticipate will be early next week.

Immigration Processing

The IRCC continues to accept and process applications. Service disruptions and restrictions due to COVID-19 may have an impact on processing times, and the current posted processing times may not be accurate.

Until further notice, IRCC offices will continue to request additional documents necessary for processing in relation to all citizenship and immigration applications, including police certificates, biometrics, passports and medical examinations. The following has been implemented:

  • Processing officers are sending request letters for additional documents allowing the applicant to respond within 90 days, an extension from 30 days;
  • If a request for additional documentation was previously sent but the applicant was unable to comply within the deadline, processing officers are automatically allowing an additional 90 days for the applicant to respond; and
  • Biometric instruction letters cannot be amended and will continue to advise applicants that they have 30 days from the date of the letter to give their biometrics. Officers should still allow 90 days for the applicant to provide their biometrics, despite the 30-day timeline identified in the letter.

The IRCC has stated that no application in progress will be closed or refused due to a lack of documentation or inability to complete the application process in time, such as giving biometrics or completing an immigration medical exam, when travel reopens.


For entry into the United States

Temporary Closure of Trusted Traveler Program Enrollment Centers

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has temporarily suspended operations at Trusted Traveler Program enrollment centers nationwide until, at least, May 1, 2020 as a precautionary measure to minimize the exposure of CBP personnel and the public to COVID-19.  The temporary closure includes all public access Global Entry enrollment centers, NEXUS enrollment centers, SENTRI enrollment centers and FAST enrollment locations. Global Entry mobile enrollment events are also paused until further notice.  Conditionally-approved applicants who seek an enrollment center interview will need to reschedule after May 1. These applicants are encouraged to monitor their e-mail and Trusted Traveler Program accounts for further information.

Temporary Suspension of in-person services by USCIS

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services temporarily suspended in-person services at all of its field offices, asylum offices and Application Support Centers until April 7, 2020.  USCIS will continue operations and services that do not require in-person contact with the public.

Previously Effected Travel Restrictions Remain in Place

The previously effected suspensions of entry into the United States of certain non-U.S. citizens, who were physically present within the Islamic Republic of Iran, the European Schengen Area, and the People’s Republic of China (excluding the Special Autonomous Regions of Hong Kong and Macau) during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States, remain in place.  The proclamation effecting these suspensions does not apply to U.S. citizens or to any alien who is:

  1. a lawful permanent resident of the United States;
  2. a spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident;
  3. a parent or legal guardian of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, provided that the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident is unmarried and under the age of 21;
  4. a sibling of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, provided that both are unmarried and under the age of 21;
  5. a child, foster child or ward of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, or a prospective adoptee seeking to enter the United States pursuant to the IR-4 or IH-4 visa classifications;
  6. an alien traveling at the invitation of the United States Government for a purpose related to containment or mitigation of the virus;
  7. C (transit) or D (air or sea crewmember) non-immigrants;
  8. seeking entry into or transiting the United States pursuant to an A-1, A-2, C-2, C-3 (as a foreign government official or immediate family member of an official), G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1 through NATO-4, or NATO-6 visa;
  9. an alien whose entry would not pose a significant risk of introducing, transmitting or spreading the virus, as determined by the CDC Director, or his designee;
  10. an alien whose entry would further important United States law enforcement objectives, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security or their respective designees based on a recommendation of the Attorney General or his designee; or
  11. an alien whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security or their designees.

For more information, contact Miller Thomson’s Immigration Team


Miller Thomson is closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation to ensure that we provide our clients with appropriate support in this rapidly changing environment. For articles, information updates and firm developments, please visit our COVID-19 Resources page.


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