Travel restriction measures: COVID-19 program delivery

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Air travel and border measures have been implemented to protect the health and safety of Canadians by restricting discretionary international travel. These instructions describe IRCC’s role in supporting the administration of these measures and provide guidance on applying some of the exemptions that are in place to facilitate necessary travel.

Important note: Regular travel document requirements for air travel and entry to Canada continue to apply. Foreign nationals who are exempted from the travel restrictions must continue to meet all travel document requirements under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR).

Canadian citizens, permanent residents and protected persons continue to be permitted to enter Canada, subject to health screening measures.

Travel restrictions affecting foreign nationals

These restrictions have been implemented under the authority of the Minister of Health through emergency orders under the Quarantine Act and of the Minister of Transport through interim orders under the Aeronautics Act (the Orders). For more information on the Orders, visit List of Acts and Regulations.

Restrictions vary depending on from where the foreign national is departing. However, any COVID-19-symptomatic travellers will not be permitted to enter Canada. Note that regular immigration requirements and admissibility provisions must still be met for all travel and entry to Canada.

Departing from any country other than the United States

In the air mode, foreign nationals departing from any country other than the United States are prohibited from boarding an aircraft for a flight to Canada when

  • they are not covered by any of the exemptions in the Orders (consult: Travel restriction exemptions for those Departing from a country other than the U.S.), or
  • they are travelling for an optional and discretionary purpose

Departing from the United States

Foreign nationals departing from the United States are prohibited from entering Canada when

  • they are travelling for an optional and discretionary purpose

Note: The optional/discretionary requirement does not apply to asymptomatic, immediate family members of Canadian citizens or Canadian permanent residents who can establish that they will enter Canada to be with their immediate family member and who intend to stay in Canada for a period of at least 15 days.

Regardless of whether the foreign national is departing the United States or any other country, all asymptomatic persons entering Canada must quarantine themselves.

Travel for an optional or discretionary purpose

The exemptions under the Orders do not apply to foreign nationals travelling for optional or discretionary purposes. The onus is on the foreign national to demonstrate the purpose of their travel.

For more information, consult: Non-optional and non-discretionary travel: COVID-19 program delivery

Definition of immediate family members

The definition of immediate family members set out in the Orders is broader than the definition of family members in subsection 1(3) of the IRPR (spouses and common-law partners, and their dependent children and any dependent children of their dependent children) and includes:

  • parents or step-parents
  • a parent’s or step-parent’s spouse or common-law partner
  • a guardian or tutor

For additional information related to the interpretation of a dependent child, consult:

  • Dependent children – program delivery

Guardians and tutors are individuals who are responsible for caring for a foreign national minor who is living apart from a parent for an extended period of time, for example to attend a secondary school in Canada. The guardian or tutor should be able to demonstrate that they habitually reside at the same address as the minor. Officers should be flexible in accepting documentary evidence.

Travel restriction exemptions for those departing from a country other than the U.S.

Immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents

A foreign national who is an immediate family member of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident is exempt from the travel restrictions and permitted to travel to Canada if they have the required documentation for travel. If the immediate family member of the Canadian Citizen or permanent resident’s stay in Canada will be 15 days or longer, they are to be considered to be travelling for a non-discretionary or non-optional purpose. In addition, officers should be flexible when processing immediate family members of Canadian Citizens and Permanent residents of Canada travelling for less than 15 days, if they are travelling for a non-discretionary or non-optional purpose.The Canadian citizen or permanent resident immediate family member may be in Canada or accompanying the foreign national.

Travellers are expected to self-identify to airlines at the point of boarding that they are exempt under this provision by presenting documentation to establish their family member’s Canadian citizenship or permanent resident status and their relationship to that family member.

Immediate family member is a child

Where the foreign national is a child, age and dependency determine whether they meet the family member definition under IRPR as a dependent child, and consequently whether they meet the immediate family member definition of the Orders. However, note that a foreign national who is an adult child of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident and who is not eligible under this provision, may be exempt under the family reunification exemption.

Immediate family member is a parent

Where the foreign national is a parent, there is no requirement to establish dependency.

Note: Immediate family members of Canadian citizens or permanent residents do not require any written authorization from IRCC.

Documentation showing their immediate family member’s Canadian citizenship, or permanent resident status, such as a

  • Canadian passport
  • proof of Canadian citizenship such as a citizenship certificate, citizenship card or provincial or territorial birth certificate
  • Canadian permanent resident card
  • Canadian permanent resident travel document (visa counterfoil)
  • visa-exempt foreign passport and IRCC Special Authorization for Canadian Citizens (consult Canadian citizens travelling on a foreign passport)

Documentation showing their relationship to that family member, such as a

  • marriage certificate or proof of common law status (documents showing a shared address or similar)
  • birth certificate
  • Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) for the family class (the COPR category under Application Details will be FC) or under the one-year window (coded OYW under Special Program)
  • other document(s) supporting an immediate family connection (for example, correspondence from IRCC showing spousal sponsorship in progress or documentation indicating a common residential address)

Paper and electronic copies of the documents listed above are acceptable. Please note that the above are examples only. An officer may request or accept other documents as they deem necessary.

Role of IRCC

Air carriers who require assistance to confirm that a foreign national passenger is eligible for this exemption will communicate through established channels with Transport Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

Family reunification

The Orders also exempt foreign nationals whose travel to Canada is authorized in writing by an officer designated under subsection 6(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, for the purpose of reuniting immediate family members.

The expanded definition of immediate family member described above continues to apply.

In order for a foreign national to be eligible under this exemption, there must be 2 or more foreign nationals who are immediate family members of each other, and authorizing one or more of them to enter Canada must allow them to be reunited.

While the foreign national’s immediate family member must be a resident in Canada, that family member does not have to be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.

This means that a foreign national with an immediate family member temporarily residing in Canada as a worker, visitor, student or protected person, would be exempt under this provision if provided with written authorization.

An adult child of a person residing in Canada may be eligible under this exemption. This is because, while the child is not an immediate family member of the parent under the definition above, the parent is an immediate family member of the child.

Written authorization may be issued to facilitate family unity at the onset and allow for the whole family to travel together and establish residence in Canada. There is no requirement for the head of family (ex. a worker or student) to come to Canada first and the rest of the family travel at a later date with authorization letters to reunite in Canada.

Accompanying family members may be issued written authorization under this family reunification provision if they are not otherwise exempt under another exemption. However, their travel must still be non-optional and non-discretionary. Generally those accompanying family members seeking to establish themselves in Canada will be considered to be travelling for a non-discretionary purpose.

The objective of this exemption is to facilitate unity of immediate family members who have or would be separated as a result of these travel restrictions. Migration officers and case processing officers are to assess the circumstances surrounding the foreign national’s travel prior to authorizing in writing that the foreign national is exempt under this provision. As noted above, the officer must be satisfied that the foreign national is not travelling for an optional or discretionary purpose.

Recommended documentation for travel

Documentation showing their immediate family member’s temporary resident status and their relationship to that family member, and written authorization from IRCC:

  • Copy of the immediate family member’s work permit, study permit, temporary resident permit, or visitor record (please note that a visitor record may not be suitable to meet an exemption in all circumstances)
  • Relationship To Family Member
  • Written authorization from an IRCC officer.
    • IRCC will provide a letter to the foreign national to demonstrate to the airline that they are authorized to travel to Canada under this exemption. In situations where a foreign national arrives at a port of entry with an IRCC authorization letter for reuniting immediate family members, the purpose of travel will generally be considered non-discretionary as IRCC is only issuing such letters when travel is for a non-discretionary purpose. Foreign nationals must still continue to meet all regular eligibility and admissibility requirements for entry into Canada. As always, the final decision on admission to Canada is made by Border Services Officers at Canadian ports of entry, and in cases where new or conflicting information is provided at entry, Border Service Officers continue to apply their discretion.

Role of IRCC

Processing applications for temporary resident visas and electronic travel authorizations

While the travel restrictions are in effect, IRCC has temporarily changed how applications are processed. For information, please see:

  • Ministerial Instructions with respect to the processing of certain new and existing applications for temporary residence
  • Temporary residence: COVID-19 program delivery

International students

For information on the impact the Orders in Council have on international students consult: Study permit: COVID-19 program delivery

Temporary workers

For information on the impact the Orders in Council have on foreign workers, consult: Work permit: COVID-19 program delivery

Permanent resident visa holders

The Orders exempt foreign nationals who have been approved for permanent residence and who were eligible to travel to Canada to become landed permanent residents on or before March 18, 2020, the date on which the first interim order came into force.

Many of these foreign nationals had already made arrangements to settle in Canada before the travel restrictions were put in place. Facilitating their entry for the purposes of landing contributes to meeting immediate family reunification and labour market needs and reduces the accumulation of an inventory of approved permanent residents who will need to travel to Canada once restrictions are lifted.

These foreign nationals can self-identify to airlines at the point of boarding that they are exempt under this provision by presenting

  • a permanent resident visa (nationals from visa-required countries only), or
  • a COPR document (all foreign nationals)

Accredited officials

The Orders exempt foreign nationals who are exempt from the requirement to obtain a temporary resident visa under paragraph R190(2)(a) and their immediate family members. Note that the broader definition of immediate family members continues to apply.

The foreign national must hold a passport that contains a diplomatic acceptance, a consular acceptance or an official acceptance issued by the Chief of Protocol for GAC on behalf of the Government of Canada. They must be a properly accredited diplomat, consular officer, representative or official of a country other than Canada, of the United Nations or any of its agencies or of any international organization of which Canada is a member.

Incoming accredited officials

The Orders exempt foreign representatives and their accompanying family members destined to Canada to become accredited by Global Affairs Canada (GAC) and to assume their postings.

These foreign representatives and their accompanying family members, whether they are from a visa-required country or not, are required to apply for and obtain a temporary resident visa (TRV) prior to their arrival in Canada under the current travel restrictions.

The issuance of these TRVs must only occur with the authorization of GAC’s Office of Protocol. The TRV coded D-1 or O-1 is the only indication to border services officers that the passport holder, in Canada’s view, may be entitled to diplomatic, consular or official privileges and immunities and recognized under the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act.

Application instructions for these foreign representatives during the travel restrictions have been shared with GAC.

Protected persons

The Orders exempt protected persons within the meaning of subsection A95(2).

A protected person is a person on whom refugee protection is conferred under subsection A95(1) and whose claim or application has not subsequently been deemed to be rejected under subsection A108(3), A109(3) or A114(4). The only document that may be presented to provide proof of this status is a Canadian refugee travel document issued by IRCC, in line with paragraph R39(c).

National interest

The Orders exempt a foreign national whose presence in Canada, in the opinion of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship or the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, is in the national interest.

This exemption may only be applied by any of the 3 ministers listed. The decision for the exemption will be made by the respective minister. The IRCC Case Management Branch (CMB) will manage these situations in accordance with existing processes.

National interest considerations used to overcome the travel restrictions pertain to why the person should exceptionally and immediately be allowed to board a flight bound for Canada or enter Canada. For example, business visitors travelling to contribute to Canada’s critical infrastructure may be considered to be in the national interest. Public Safety Canada’s website contains a non-exhaustive list of essential services and functions.

The national interest exemption is intended to be used in exceptional circumstances only. All other exemptions must be considered before giving consideration to applying the national interest exemption. The national interest is meant to be used in limited cases beyond those contemplated by the other exemptions. It is not meant to be a workaround for cases when a more appropriate exemption is not granted by the authority authorized to make the exemption.

Clients wishing to request a national interest exemption from IRCC can contact their nearest visa office.

Transit passengers

The Orders exempt persons arriving at a Canadian airport aboard a commercial passenger conveyance and who are transiting to a country other than Canada and remains in a sterile transit area within the meaning of section 2 of IRPR.

Crew members and foreign nationals entering Canada to become crew members

The Orders exempt foreign national crew members, including those arriving by air to join a vessel.

Airlines will permit boarding for seafarers travelling to Canada to join a ship’s crew if they are holding a seafarer’s identity document supplemented by a passport or other seafarer documentation, including proof of employment on a vessel at a Canadian port.

This exemption does not affect regular travel document and permit requirements for foreign nationals under IRPR.

Members of the Canadian Forces or a visiting force as defined in section 2 of the Visiting Forces Act and the immediate family members of those members

Any person who is a member of the armed forces of a designated state present in Canada in connection with official duties, including civilian personnel designated under section 4 of the Visiting Forces Act as a civilian component of a visiting force, should be permitted to board.

For additional information on the Visiting Forces Act, refer to the following instructions:

  • Military personnel and family members

Canadian citizens travelling on a foreign passport

Canadian citizens are encouraged to carry a valid Canadian passport at all times. Exceptionally, Canadian citizens may travel to Canada on a visa-exempt foreign passport with a special authorization. When this special authorization is issued, IRCC will produce a confirmation email approving the special authorization. For the purposes of the interim order, the Canadian citizen can provide this email to the airline to show they are not a foreign national and therefore not subject to this travel restriction. Note that the foreign passport number in the approval email should match the traveller’s foreign passport number.

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