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COVID-19 immigration and travel: where are we now?

Brendan Sheridan and Brittany Trafford.

Many events and workplaces started to feel more normal over the summer as we emerged from over two years of restrictions and COVID-19 pandemic precautions. However, as people line up for booster vaccinations and variants continue to emerge, it is clear that the pandemic has not truly come to an end.

Federal restrictions on travel have continued despite the provinces lifting COVID-19 restrictions months ago. The Federal Government continues to have travel restrictions, quarantine requirements, and COVID-19 related pre-travel requirements in place until the end of September 2022 for individuals seeking entry to Canada.

On September 26, 2022, the Government of Canada announced the removal of all entry and testing restrictions, quarantine, and isolation requirements for anyone entering Canada, effective as of October 1, 2022. Below we summarize current rules, and how they will change at the end of the month.

Travel Vaccination Requirements

The Government implemented travel restrictions at the beginning of the pandemic to limit which foreign nationals could enter Canada. These travel restrictions do not apply to Canadian citizens or permanent residents, as they have a right of entry to Canada. While these restrictions have slowly loosened from their original form, they continue to remain in place.

The restrictions currently require all foreign nationals entering Canada to be fully vaccinated with an approved COVID-19 vaccine. There are limited exceptions. The Government of Canada defines a “fully vaccinated person” as a person who has completed a COVID-19 vaccine dosage regime that is approved in Canada at least 14 days prior to their entry to the country.

The exceptions to the fully vaccinated requirement include, but are not limited to, children under the age of 18 if they are accompanying their parent or guardian; adults that are dependent due to a mental or physical limitation who are seeking entry to Canada with a parent or guardian; persons who have a contraindication to the COVID-19 vaccine; and technicians entering Canada to repair, install, or inspect equipment necessary to support critical infrastructure.

The current Order in Council governing the travel restrictions remains in effect until September 30, 2022. Starting October 1, 2022, all travellers, regardless of citizenship, will no longer have to provide proof of vaccination to enter Canada.

Quarantine Requirements

The Government has also maintained quarantine requirements throughout the duration of the pandemic, although the majority of travellers eligible to enter Canada now qualify for an exemption to this requirement. Currently, asymptomatic travellers who can demonstrate they are fully vaccinated with an approved COVID-19 vaccine are exempt from the quarantine requirements.

Unvaccinated travellers must still quarantine for 14 days after entry with limited exemptions. These exemptions include, but are not limited to, children under the age of 12 who are accompanying a fully vaccinated parent or guardian; persons who have contraindications to the COVID-19 vaccine; and technicians entering Canada to repair, install, or inspect equipment necessary to support critical infrastructure who have a reasonable rationale for needing to provide these services during their first 14 days in Canada.

Similar to the travel restrictions, the quarantine requirements are currently in effect until September 30, 2022. As of October 1, 2022, all travellers, regardless of citizenship, will no longer have to carry out COVID-19-related quarantine or isolation. Note, travellers who entered Canada in the 14 days prior to October 1, 2022 will not be required to complete the rest of their quarantine or isolation period as of October 1, 2022.

ArriveCAN and Proof of Vaccination

During the pandemic the Government introduced an application called ArriveCAN to help screen travellers prior to their arrival in Canada. The application has been controversial due to glitches and the complications it causes some travellers.[1]

Currently, those who do not properly complete the app either online or on their smart phone are subject to 14 days of quarantine and a potential $5,000 fine. Details about the traveller must be submitted via ArriveCAN within 72 hours of travel to the country. This requirement applies to Canadians and non-Canadians, regardless of vaccination status.

The most significant factor in loosening the travel restrictions and quarantine requirements to date has been the development of COVID-19 vaccines. To claim an exemption from restrictions as a fully vaccinated traveller, individuals travelling to Canada have been, and are still currently, required to show proof of vaccination. This proof of vaccination must be shown to the border officers when entering Canada and a copy must be uploaded to the ArriveCAN app.

As of October 1, 2022, all travellers, regardless of citizenship, will no longer have to submit public health information or proof of vaccination through the ArriveCAN app or website.

After October 1, 2022, ArriveCAN will still be optional for anyone who wishes to use the Advance Declaration feature to speed up their airport experience. This feature allows travellers to submit customs and immigration declarations in advance of arrival. This is only available for those arriving at Toronto Pearson, Vancouver, or Montréal-Trudeau international airports, but will be expanded in the coming months. There is some data showing this feature can shave off about 1/3rd of the time that travellers spend at airport kiosks.[2]

CBSA is also considering additional features that can be offered through ArriveCAN in future, including regarding border wait time information. Therefore, while ArriveCAN will no longer be mandatory as of October 1, 2022, it will continue to be available to travellers who wish to use it.

Testing Requirements

Requirements for COVID-19 testing when entering Canada vary depending on a traveller’s vaccination status. This testing, whether pre-travel testing or on-arrival testing, has been under fire throughout the pandemic with increasing calls to remove it entirely as healthy, fully vaccinated travellers are, in some cases, now being forced to quarantine due to the test’s inability to distinguish between people who previously had COVID-19 and those currently infected by it.[3]

Currently, unvaccinated travellers who are authorized to travel to Canada must undergo the most testing. They must complete pre-travel testing, on-entry testing, and post-arrival testing on day-8 of their quarantine. Individuals who are exempt from quarantine for a reason other than being fully vaccinated may have modified testing requirements.

Arguably the issue that caused the most questions amongst individuals is the Government’s decision to continue the randomized mandatory on-arrival testing of fully vaccinated travellers. While this was temporarily suspended between June and July 2022 for individuals arriving in Canada by air, it was reinstated on July 19, 2022.

In an effort to reduce the major backlogs at the airports caused by the additional COVID-19 measures, all the testing is now conducted offsite either by in-person appointments at select test provider locations or virtual appointments with a self-swab test. This test must be completed within 1 calendar day of arriving in Canada and being randomly selected.

As of October 1, 2022, all travellers, regardless of citizenship, will no longer have to undergo pre- or on-arrival testing. Travellers who entered Canada in the 14 days prior to October 1, 2022 will not have to complete testing requirements that would normally have been required on or after October 1, 2022.

Additional Facts

In addition to the above, the following will apply as of October 1, 2022 to all travellers entering Canada:

  • They will not have to monitor and report if they develop signs or symptoms of COVID-19 once they are in Canada.
  • They will not have to undergo health checks for travel on air and rail.
  • They will not have to wear masks on planes and trains.
  • They will no longer be required to have pre-board tests, be vaccinated, or use ArriveCAN for cruises.

Conclusion

COVID-19 restrictions have been easing within the past few months and slowly returning to normal, and the Government of Canada has now officially announced that it will lift all remaining travel requirements as of October 1, 2022.

It is nonetheless important to remember the pandemic is not yet over and COVID-19 continues to pose a risk to the health and safety of Canadians. Therefore, the Government of Canada continues to urge individuals to avoid travel if they have symptoms of COVID-19. Travellers who do become sick while travelling are advised to inform a flight attendant, cruise staff, or border officer on arrival. The Government of Canada also continues to strongly recommend that travellers continue to wear masks during their travels.


This update is intended for general information only. If you have further questions about these programs or are an employer seeking to support your workers, please contact a member of our Immigration Group.

Click here to subscribe to Stewart McKelvey Thought Leadership.

[1] https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/arrivecan-app-quarantine-glitch-1.6528312

[2] https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/news/2022/09/government-of-canada-to-remove-covid-19-border-and-travel-measures-effective-october-1.html

[3] https://globalnews.ca/news/9076841/canada-random-covid-19-border-testing-previous-infections/

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