Areas of

Canada relaxes restrictions on extended family members, international students

Friday, October 16, 2020 @ 1:20 PM | By Oliver Mao

Oliver Mao %>
Oliver Mao
When COVID-19 was first declared a global pandemic, the Canadian government immediately introduced very strict restrictions on travel to Canada. Almost all travellers were prohibited from entering Canada under these restrictions unless they qualified for a small number of narrow exemptions. At the time, little was known about the virus, how to effectively slow its spread, and the economic and social repercussions it would eventually bring about.

As Canada enters the second wave of this pandemic, policymakers can now benefit from an understanding of best practices to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19, but more importantly they also have been witness to the profound personal tragedies that previous restrictions have caused. While the spread of the virus may have been minimized, it came at a tremendous societal cost. Families were forced apart, foreign nationals were unable to see and care for their loved ones and students were unable to commence or continue their studies in Canada.

Sympathetic to the needs of those who have been most affected by Canada’s travel restrictions, on Oct. 8, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) introduced additional measures to facilitate the reunification of families that had previously been held apart by travel restrictions. Prior to this, a family reunification exemption was only available to a spouse or dependent child of an individual in Canada. This exemption has now been extended to cover partners in an exclusive dating relationship, adult children, siblings, grandchildren and grandparents. Significantly, this is the first time that IRCC has instituted a policy that applies to partners in an exclusive dating relationship. A procedure having been defined to confirm this kind of relationship could be a signal that after the pandemic, additional flexibility could be available to such applicants (e.g. those who are not common-law partners due to being separated because of COVID-19 restrictions but who have maintained an exclusive dating relationship).

An additional measure introduced on Oct. 8 allows travellers to request authorization to enter Canada on compassionate grounds to provide support or care for a Canadian who is critically ill, or to attend a funeral or end of life ceremony. Such travellers will also be permitted to leave their mandatory quarantine location for these purposes. This compassionate exemption is intended to prevent Canadians from having to face the same fate as many abroad who have suffered and died alone, without their families, without even a funeral.

Further, on Oct. 20 another policy will come into effect to facilitate the entry of international students if they will be attending an educational institution with a COVID‑19 readiness plan in place that has been approved by their provincial or territorial government. This policy recognizes that with proper preventative measures, the spread of COVID-19 can be controlled. It is also an acknowledgement that different responses to the virus may be necessary in each province and territory. Secondary and post-secondary schools are already being notified of the approval of their COVID-19 readiness plans, and a full list of approved schools as well as specific procedures associated with this policy will be available before Oct. 20.

The Canadian government’s top priority continues to be protecting the health and safety of its population, but this must also be balanced against the adverse impacts that pandemic restrictions are having on affected individuals. The new measures IRCC has put in place recognize that the entry of foreign nationals to Canada can still be safe and beneficial to the country, as long as proper preventative measures are proactively taken.

Oliver Mao is an associate lawyer at BARTLAW LLP, Canadian Immigration Lawyers, and can be reached at

Photo credit / mirsad sarajlic STOCKPHOTO.COM

Interested in writing for us? To learn more about how you can add your voice to
The Lawyer’s Daily, contact Analysis Editor Richard Skinulis at or call 437- 828-6772.