Soon, fully vaccinated individuals who are currently permitted to enter Canada (Canadians, permanent residents and those currently allowed to travel to Canada notwithstanding the restrictions, including some temporary foreign workers and international students) will no longer have to quarantine for 14 days or spend up to three-days in a government-approved hotel while waiting for the results of the COVID-19 test they must have upon arrival. This proposed change is expected to be implemented as early at the first week of July.
Others wanting to travel to Canada will have to wait a little longer. According to the announcement made on June 9, 2021 by Health Minister Patty Hajdu, the Government of Canada “will take a phased approach towards adjusting current border measures with the health and safety of Canadians being our first priority”.
The initial rollback of restrictions next month is not guaranteed. Minister Hajdu said implementation depends on Canada’s case counts continuing to drop and vaccination rates continuing to rise. However, she confirmed the federal government is consulting with Canada’s provinces and territories, and discussions are ongoing with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency (“CBSA”) so that a plan will be operationally ready in early July.
Requirements to avoid 14-day quarantine
To qualify for the proposed quarantine exemption, travellers will have to demonstrate they are fully vaccinated with a Health Canada approved vaccine at least 14 days before their departure. They will be required to have a negative result from a pre-departure COVID-19 test and be tested again upon their arrival in Canada. Travellers will also need a suitable plan to quarantine while they wait for the result of the COVID-19 test administered upon their arrival. In most cases, test results are available within two to three days. Under the relaxed regime being contemplated for roll out in July, eligible travellers will be able to quarantine at home for this period rather in a designated hotel in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary or Vancouver.
Further steps to relax Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions will depend on the disease’s progress in Canada and abroad, and the extent of any new variants. Although tourists and international business travellers not deemed “essential” will have to wait a little longer to travel to Canada, Minister Hajdu’s announcement is welcome news for those Canadians, permanent residents and others whose admission to Canada has been subject to a lengthy quarantine for the last 15 months. It also offers a glimmer of hope that soon other business (and leisure) travel will be permitted to resume.
With some exceptions, the Canadian border has been closed to international travellers since March 2020. By virtue of a series of emergency orders enacted under Canada’s Quarantine Act to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Canada’s border closure protocols prohibit travel to Canada for “optional and discretionary purposes, such as tourism, recreation or entertainment” from the United States. Foreign nationals outside of the U.S. are not permitted to travel to Canada unless they qualify for a specific exemption such as those available for essential service providers, work permit holders (or foreign nationals approved to be issued a work permit upon their arrival in Canada) and those individuals whose presence in Canada is determined to be in the national interest.
The emergency orders currently in place expire on June 21, 2021. Although these orders have been replaced repeatedly for more than a year now, there is much speculation that more good news is on the horizon for those who want to enter Canada from the U.S.
Various Government of Canada officials have indicated that 75 per cent of Canadian residents eligible for vaccination would need to receive their first dose, and 20 per cent be fully vaccinated before border restrictions could be relaxed. Since Canada is expected to reach that threshold on or about June 21, further changes may be announced before too long.
Proof of vaccination
Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc said that Canada, in consultation with the provinces and foreign governments including the European Union and the U.S., is developing a national vaccine passport, but it will not be ready in July. In the meantime, the federal government is working with CBSA to figure out the technical details of what will be accepted as proof of vaccination for travel to Canada in the meantime.
Domestic Travel Restrictions
As Canada makes plans to gradually begin lifting border restrictions for international travel, would-be travellers should be mindful of provincial borders, some of which are currently closed to non-essential domestic and international travellers such as British Columbia and Nova Scotia.
What does this mean for Employers?
Once the proposed changes come into effect:
- Fully vaccinated employees who are Canadians, permanent residents of Canada, and work permit holders ordinarily resident in Canada that are required to travel internationally for their job will be able to return to Canada and resume their normal daily activities much sooner.
- Organizations that hire internationally to fill key vacancies or skills shortages will be able to onboard those employees on site more quickly following their arrival in Canada. It will no longer be necessary for these individuals to quarantine for a full 14 days once they enter Canada.
- Although no formal announcement has been made yet, there is expected to be a loosening of the Canada-U.S. border closure soon such that fully vaccinated employees who travelled to Canada from the U.S. frequently for business purposes and in-person meetings before the pandemic will be able to cross the border once again.
Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions are expected to change repeatedly in the coming weeks and months. Please contact one of our immigration lawyers for advice related to international business travel or the immigration aspects of hiring a foreign national to work in Canada.
 At the time of writing, the vaccines approved by Health Canada are AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD, Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. Other vaccines are currently under review.
Government-approved quarantine hotels are located in these cities as all scheduled international commercial passenger flights destined to Canada are currently funneled to Canada’s four largest airports which are located in those cities.