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March 26, 2020

COVID-19: Travel Restrictions Between the United States and Canada

US and Canadian officials have mutually determined that non-essential travel between the United States and Canada poses additional risks of transmitting and spreading COVID-19 and increases the chances in both countries of individuals contracting the virus. Effective last Friday, the US Department of Homeland Security secretary has temporarily limited the travel of individuals from Canada into the United States at land ports of entry along the United States-Canada border to “essential travel” only. The restrictions will remain in effect until April 20.

For purposes of this restriction, “essential travel” includes but is not limited to:

  • US citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the United States
  • Individuals traveling for medical purposes (e.g., to receive medical treatment in the United States)
  • Individuals traveling to attend educational institutions
  • Individuals traveling to work in the United States (e.g., individuals working in the farming or agriculture industry who must travel between the United States and Canada in furtherance of their work)
  • Individuals traveling for emergency response and public health purposes (e.g., government officials or emergency responders entering the United States 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 United States and Canada)
  • Individuals engaged in official government travel or diplomatic travel
  • Members of the US Armed Forces and their spouses and children who are returning to the United States
  • Individuals engaged in military-related travel or operations

The following travel does not fall within the definition of “essential travel”:

  • Individuals traveling for tourism purposes (e.g., sightseeing, recreation, gambling, or attending cultural events)

The restriction does not apply to air, freight rail, or sea travel between the United States and Canada, but does apply to passenger rail and ferry travel.

Significantly, the US Customs and Border Protection commissioner may—on an individualized basis and for humanitarian reasons or for other purposes in the national interest—permit the processing of travelers to the United States not engaged in “essential travel” as defined above.

These restrictions are temporary in nature and may be amended or rescinded prior to April 20 based on circumstances associated with the specific threat.

As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, Barclay Damon’s Canada-US cross-border attorneys will keep you updated on any further travel restrictions. Our attorneys are available to assist with matters related to the effect of COVID-19 on travel and business relations between the United States and Canada.

If you have any questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact Rich Day, Canada-US Cross-Border Team leader, at rday@barclaydamon.com; Rosanna Berardi, immigration counsel, at rberardi@barclaydamon.com; or Charlie Barth, associate, at pbarth@barclaydamon.com.

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