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Border closed due to COVID-19

One year after U.S.-Canada border closure: Where do we stand?

Thursday, March 18, 2021 @ 1:17 PM | By Rosanna Berardi


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Rosanna Berardi
We are coming up on the one-year anniversary of the U.S.-Canada Border closure on March 21, 2021, which will mark a full year of suspended land movement between the two countries. The U.S.-Canada border first closed on March 21, 2020, and the closure order has been extended each month since. The closure order was most recently extended through March 21, 2021 and will likely be extended beyond that date.

How did we get here?

Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on March 21, 2020, its decision to temporarily limit the travel of individuals from Canada into the United States at land ports of entry along the U.S.-Canada border to “essential travel,” as defined in the order. This order, known as the Temporary Travel Restrictions Applicable to Land Ports of Entry and Ferries Service Between the United States and Canada, originally restricted non-essential travel at land borders for a period of 30 days, but has since been extended on a monthly basis. As mentioned above, it was most recently extended through March 21, 2021, and will likely be extended.

Traveling to Canada: Who is allowed to cross?

Americans have been unable to visit Canada since early 2020 due to stricter measures in place in Canada. As the COVID-19 pandemic continued, exemptions to the ban have been created for a select groups of Americans, who are able to visit Canada for reunification purposes. The only other types of entry permitted are for long-term work or education visas.

Canadian border officials note that all visitors, regardless of their travel exemption, must follow Canada’s health protocols including new quarantine restrictions and testing requirements for entry. There are three categories of exemptions for individuals seeking to reunite with family members in Canada, including:

  1. Immediate family members who want to unite with a Canadian citizen, person registered under Canada’s Indian Act, or permanent resident;
  2. Extended family members who want to unite with a Canadian citizen, person registered under Canada’s Indian Act, or permanent resident; and
  3. Immediate family members who want to unite with someone who is in Canada temporarily.

Please visit this link for more information and the specific eligibility requirements.

Canada has also developed a process to allow pre-approval of travelers attempting to enter Canada for “compassionate reasons,” including visits to hospitals and funerals, as well as long-term care facilities like nursing homes or hospice centers. Please visit this link for more information.

Traveling to the U.S.: Who is allowed to cross?

It is important to note that this order restricting non-essential travel to the U.S. only applies to entry via land borders, ferry crossing, passenger rail, or coastal ports of entry from Canada. The restriction does not apply to air, freight rail, or sea travel between the U.S. and Canada. The travel restrictions continue to be enforced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), who has discretion to determine what qualifies as essential and non-essential travel.

CBP defines “non-essential” travel as individuals traveling for tourism purposes (e.g., sightseeing, recreation, gambling, or attending cultural events). On the other hand, the following is a non-exhaustive list of travel deemed “essential,” including:

  • U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the U.S.;
  • Individuals traveling for medical purposes (e.g., to receive medical treatment in the U.S.);
  • Individuals traveling to attend educational institutions;
  • Individuals traveling to work in the U.S. who hold valid travel documents (e.g., individuals working in the farming or agriculture industry who must travel between the U.S. and Canada in furtherance of such work);
  • Individuals traveling for emergency response and public health purposes (e.g., government officials or emergency responders entering the U.S. to support federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial government efforts to respond to COVID-19 or other emergencies);
  • Individuals engaged in lawful cross-border trade (e.g., truck drivers supporting the movement of cargo between the U.S. and Canada);
  • Individuals engaged in official government travel or diplomatic travel;
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the spouses and children of members of the U.S. Armed Forces, returning to the U.S.; and
  • Individuals engaged in military-related travel or operations.

Air travel continues to be unrestricted at this time, although those traveling by air should still anticipate additional scrutiny from CBP officers and be prepared with relevant documentation describing the nature of their activities in the U.S. Additionally, travelers should be aware all airline passengers bound for the U.S. will only be permitted to board their flights if they have received a negative COVID test result within three calendar days of departure.

When will the border reopen?

In January, President Joe Biden issued an executive order to begin the process of creating a plan to reopen the U.S.-Canada border. However, following that order, Canada implemented stricter border policies. Then in February, President Biden virtually welcomed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the White House. In a joint press release, both leaders said they agreed to take a coordinated approach based on science and public health criteria when considering measures to ease the U.S.-Canada border restrictions — although no specific timetable was given.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle — and border — continue to speak up about the issue and are calling on President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau for the immediate easing of restrictions so that people can begin crossing the world’s longest international border once again. While we are hopeful to see the border reopen sometime soon, it is unclear when this will actually happen.

Rosanna Berardi is the managing partner of Berardi Immigration Law and the CEO of High Wire Woman, where she helps working women create a blueprint to live their lives in a simpler way and take back their most precious commodity: their time.

Photo credit / Andres Victorero ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

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