COVID-19: Foreign Worker Travel Exemptions

The situation regarding COVID-19 is changing rapidly, this post is current as of June 2, 2020.

 

With the World Health Organization's (WHO) declaration of a pandemic on March 11, 2020, Canada triggered its response to fight the spread of COVID-19. The border closure of March 14, 2020 caught many Canadians, Permanent Residents, foreign students and foreign workers outside of Canada, surprised and confused. The new reality was difficult to plan for, and like many individuals, the government, through its immigration policy and enforcement agencies, took some time to address emerging situations affecting Canadians, Permanent Residents, foreign students and foreign workers stranded outside. Within several days Immigration, Refugee, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) put in place exemption guidelines for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the public regarding exemptions.

Presently, there are travel ban exemptions, but there is still lack of clarity as to how these are applied. The wording lacks specificity and there are no clear resources for interpretation. The exemptions from the travel ban, in all cases, do not apply to people who have symptoms of COVID-19 or anyone traveling for leisure. These may seem like commonsense, but the issue of how the exemptions are applied continues to be unclear.

The exemptions apply to Canadian Citizens and Permanent Residents, and their immediate family members. The definition of immediate family member is provided (dependent children, spouse, and parents) as long as they are not accompanying for a leisure travel. In other words, immediate family members who accompany a Canadian Citizen or Permanent Resident returning to Canada must be doing so for “non-optional” or “non-discretionary” reason. For reference, attending a funeral is not deemed either non-optional nor non-discretionary.

Much confusion rests around entry by foreign workers to Canada as well as their accompanying spouse and dependent children. Having a work permit in itself is not sufficient for an exemption from the travel restrictions.

Foreign workers with valid work permits who have already made Canada their home are allowed to return. This exemption clearly requires that the foreign worker’s primary residence is Canada. However, a foreign worker with a valid work permit who lives in one country but travels to Canada occasionally for work (non-resident worker) may not be part of this exemption. In such case, an analysis is required of whether the travel is for essential work or not.

Since many businesses closed, the first thing an officer may look at when considering admitting a non-resident worker, is whether the business for which they seek entry to work still operates, or operates in a capacity that requires the foreign worker, or whether the business provides essential services and requires the foreign worker.

While temporary entry for a non-resident worker may be possible, their accompanying spouse and dependent children may not be allowed, as their entry is likely be viewed as optional and discretionary since the dependents primary residence is also outside of Canada.

Whether you are a returning Citizen, Permanent Resident or exempted foreign worker, in nearly all cases you will have to show you have a 14 day self-isolation plan. This means you have a place to stay isolated with the necessities. In addition, you will be told to travel directly to your self-isolation destination without stopping on the way for any reason, including not stopping for groceries. Groceries are part of the necessities you need to have pre-arranged. During the 14 days of self-isolation you will need to self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and contact by phone the provincial public health agency if you experience symptoms.