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Is business travel to Canada still possible?

Thursday, February 11, 2021 @ 8:31 AM | By Daniel Lee


Daniel Lee %>
Daniel Lee
The government of Canada has implemented temporary travel restrictions on foreign nationals travelling to Canada since March 20, 2020, unless the foreign nationals are exempted. The current travel restrictions prevent foreign nationals from travelling to Canada for optional or discretionary purposes, such as tourism, recreation and entertainment. Given this, foreign nationals can only travel to Canada if they are travelling for an essential purpose. This article will outline what business travellers should be aware of prior to their departure to Canada during the pandemic.

Current travel restrictions for business travellers

The objective of the government of Canada is to allow entry to all asymptomatic foreign nationals whose travel is essential to commerce, trade, economic services and supply chain. The rules for business travellers to enter Canada depends on whether they are entering from the United States or elsewhere.

Travelling from the United States

Business travellers entering Canada from the U.S. will need to provide evidence to the border officer that they are travelling to Canada not for an optional or discretionary purpose. Examples of essential travel to Canada include the following activities:

  • economic services and supply chains;
  • critical infrastructure support; and/or
  • any other activities which are deemed essential by the government of Canada or based on the border officer’s assessment.

If the border officer determines that the business traveller’s travel to Canada is for an essential purpose, then they are allowed to enter Canada. The foreign national is also required to complete the mandatory quarantine for 14 days unless exempted.

Travelling from elsewhere

It is generally more difficult to travel to Canada from outside of the U.S. Business travellers who are entering Canada from outside of the U.S. are prohibited from boarding an airplane to Canada unless they are covered by one of the current travel exemptions in the order-in-council. The common exemptions for business travellers are as follows (not a complete list):

  • business travellers with valid work permits or work permit approval letters; or
  • technicians or specialists entering Canada in order to install, inspect, maintain or repair equipment to support critical infrastructure in the energy and utilities, information and communication technologies, finance, health, food, water, transportation, safety, government and manufacturing sectors. This includes activities of a person providing after-sales service.

If the border officer determines the business traveller’s trip to Canada is for an essential purpose, then the business traveller usually needs to complete the mandatory quarantine for 14 days unless exempted.

Strategies for business travellers to enter Canada

The strategies to enter Canada depend on whether or not the business traveller requires a work permit to perform their intended activities in Canada.

When a work permit is required

When a work permit is required, the work permit application may be delayed by the following factors:

  • Business travellers from visa-exempt countries are temporarily not allowed to fly to Canada to apply for a work permit at the port of entry unless they meet one of the current travel exemptions. This means they need to apply for a work permit from outside Canada. Alternatively, they may enter Canada from the U.S. to apply for a work permit at the port of entry. Business travellers who plan to apply for a work permit at the port of entry must be from a visa-exempt country.
  • Foreign nationals who applied for their work permits from outside Canada may encounter delay in receiving a decision on their work permit applications. This is due to local visa application centres being currently closed or having reduced services.

If business travellers are required to enter Canada on an urgent basis and they are from a visa-exempt country, they may travel to the U.S. and enter Canada from that country. This strategy requires the business traveller to be able to travel to the U.S. Currently, the U.S. has travel restrictions for individuals who have stayed at the following countries in the past 14 days: the U.K., Republic of Ireland, European Schengen area, Brazil, South Africa, China and Iran. Further, President Joe Biden has announced mandatory quarantine requirements for travellers arriving in the U.S. The details have not been released yet.

When a work permit is not required

Business travellers often enter Canada as a business visitor to attend business meetings or to participate in internal training. The current travel restrictions do not have an exemption for business visitors travelling to Canada from outside the U.S. Given this, business travellers from outside the U.S. who need to enter Canada as a business visitor to attend business meetings or to participate in internal training would need to exercise one of two options:

  • Apply to the government of Canada for a National Interest Exemption. The granting of the National Interest Exemption is discretionary and there is no standard processing time for the request. If the exemption is granted, then the business traveller will be exempt from the mandatory 14 days quarantine requirement; or
  • Travel to the U.S., then enter Canada.

Conclusion

Business travel to Canada is still possible when it is for an essential purpose and by providing evidence that the travel to Canada is essential to commerce, trade, economic services and supply chain. Meeting the essential purpose test does not mean the business traveller is automatically exempt from the mandatory 14-day quarantine requirements. In order to be exempt from the quarantine requirements, the business traveler needs to apply for a National Interest Exemption or be entering Canada as a technician or specialist to install, inspect, maintain or repair equipment to support critical infrastructure for one of the specified sectors. The travel restrictions and quarantine requirements are subject to frequent changes and will likely be in place until the majority of the population in Canada is vaccinated.

Daniel Lee is a corporate immigration lawyer at Fasken. His practice focuses on corporate immigration law and employer immigration compliance. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Lee advises his clients on the frequent changes in immigration laws, including the Quarantine Act and travel exemptions.

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