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Can unvaccinated foreign travellers leave Canada by air after Oct. 30?

Tuesday, October 12, 2021 @ 1:18 PM | By Daniel Lee


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Daniel Lee
On Oct. 6, the government of Canada announced that as of Oct. 30, Canada would require employers in the federally regulated air, rail and marine transportation sectors to establish vaccination policies for their employees. Further, effective Oct. 30, travellers departing from Canadian airports to travel within Canada or outside of Canada, and travellers on VIA Rail and Rocky Mountaineer trains, would be required to be fully vaccinated in order to travel.

The new policy has unintended consequences for international travellers in Canada who are not vaccinated and it creates a class of foreign national who cannot leave Canada unless they get vaccinated first. This article will examine whether or not unvaccinated travellers may be able to leave Canada without being fully vaccinated after Oct. 30.

By way of background information, effective Sept. 7, all foreign nationals who are fully vaccinated are now able to travel to Canada and they would be exempt from the 14 days quarantine requirement. In Canada, fully vaccinated is defined as an individual who has received the full series of a vaccine or a combination of vaccines, accepted by the government of Canada, at least 14 days prior to entering Canada. Canada currently accepts four vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. However, foreign nationals who are not fully vaccinated may still be able to travel to Canada if they meet the requirements set out in the order-in-council.

There are two sets of requirements, depending on where the foreign national is travelling from. Foreign nationals travelling from the United States to Canada need to demonstrate that their travel to Canada is for a non-discretionary purpose. Foreign nationals travelling to Canada from outside the United States would need to show that their travel falls under one of the existing travel exemption categories, such as they have an approved work permit or study permit, or they are travelling to Canada to visit immediate or extended family members of Canadian citizens or permanent residents.

The vaccination requirement will apply to all travellers 12 years of age and older who are:

  • air passengers flying on domestic, transborder or international flights departing from airports in Canada;
  • rail passengers on VIA Rail and Rocky Mountaineer trains; or
  • marine passengers on non-essential passenger vessels, such as cruise ships, on voyages of 24 hours or more.

For travellers who are in the process of being vaccinated, there will be a short transition period where they will be able to travel if they can show a valid COVID-19 molecular test within 72 hours of travel. However, this transition period will end on Nov. 30. There will be very limited exceptions to address specific situations, such as emergency travel, and those medically unable to be vaccinated. The detailed information on the exemptions have not been announced by the government of Canada. Given this, if international travellers who are not fully vaccinated do not leave Canada by Nov. 30, they will not be able to leave Canada via an airplane until they are fully vaccinated or they meet one of the exemptions. Accordingly, international travellers who refuse to get vaccinated, would end up trapped in Canada until this new policy is removed.
 
Traditionally there are alternative ways to leave Canada, such as through the United States. However, the U.S. and Canada land borders are still closed and travel to the United States from Canada is still limited to non-discretionary travel until at least Oct. 21. Further, the U.S. has recently announced new requirements to travel to that country by air and this will require travellers to be fully vaccinated commencing November 2021. Until the U.S. implements the new travel requirement for travel to that country by air, international travellers in Canada who cannot leave Canada may be able to leave North America through the U.S. as long as they have valid travel authorization for, and are admissible to the U.S.

The new policy reveals the government of Canada is committed to keeping the transportation sector, including employees and travellers, safe and secure through vaccination. However, international travellers who choose not to get their COVID-19 vaccine for personal reasons would face increasing challenges in travelling internationally. The new policy has unintended consequences for international travellers in Canada who are not vaccinated and it creates a class of foreign national who cannot leave Canada unless they get vaccinated first. Foreign nationals in Canada who are not fully vaccinated should be given an opportunity to leave Canada post-Nov. 30, despite of their vaccination status, if they can provide a negative COVID-19 molecular test within 72 hours of travel.

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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