Immigration Update: Further Details on Canada-U.S. Land Border Travel Restrictions

7 minute read
22 March 2020


Canada and the United States recently announced that border restrictions on entry by land would be implemented. The land border is closed to non-essential traffic. Restrictions on travel by air are already in place.

Further details on land border and ferry service restrictions have been provided.

These restrictions on entry at land ports of entry between the United States and Canada started on March 21, 2020 and will be in effect initially for 30 days. Further details are set out below.

Entry by land into the United States from Canada

Further details were set out in a document issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Temporary Travel Restrictions Applicable to Land Ports of Entry and Ferries Service between the United States and Canada

All non-essential travel across the border is prohibited.

"Essential travel" has been defined. For entry into the United States from Canada through land ports of entry and ferry terminals, "essential travel" includes, but is not limited to the following:

  • U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the United States;
  • 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 such work);
  • Individuals engaged in lawful cross-border trade (e.g., truck drivers supporting the movement of cargo between the United States and Canada);
  • Individuals traveling for medical purposes (e.g., to receive medical treatment in the United States);
  • Individuals traveling to attend educational institutions;
  • Individuals traveling for emergency response and public health purposes.

The second and third bullets will apply to the entry of Canadians to the United States who are seeking entry to work in the United States or to engage in cross-border trade. These provisions also would appear to apply to non-Canadian citizens based in Canada who are seeking to enter for an "essential travel" purpose outlined in the definition.

Therefore, it appears that "essential travel" for work has not been restricted to certain types of occupations, industries or activities. However, it remains to be seen how these temporary new rules will be applied at ports of entry, and if the rules will be modified as circumstances change.

Entry by land into Canada from the United States

The Prime Minister's Office announced on March 20 that border restrictions would start on March 21 (Statement from the PMO). The announcement confirmed that "non-essential" travel (travel for tourism or recreational purposes) would be prohibited.

Prior to that, on March 19, IRCC indicated that travel to a port of entry for the purpose of obtaining immigration services "is non-essential" and stated that foreign nationals who are already in Canada should not travel to the land border to apply for a work permit, study permit or to land as a permanent resident "until the further notice." Therefore, "flagpoling" to a port of entry by foreign nationals already in Canada is not allowed and those who try it will not receive any services from border officers.

On March 20 during an update from government officials, Chrystia Freeland, the Deputy Prime Minister, stated that for land entry from the United States "non-essential travel is restricted and that is it".

IRCC provided an update on exemptions on March 20 regarding travel restrictions on foreign nationals seeking to travel to Canada: Update on travel restrictions and exemptions. The update was also set out on the IRCC twitter account:

The update included confirmation that travel by foreign nationals "who have already committed to working, studying or making Canada their home" will be considered "essential travel" under the land border restrictions. The "essential travel" list for includes the following foreign nationals:

  • seasonal agricultural workers, fish/seafood workers, caregivers and all other temporary foreign workers
  • international students who held a valid study permit, or had been approved for a study permit, when the travel restrictions took effect on March 18, 2020
  • permanent resident applicants who had been approved for permanent residence before the travel restrictions were announced on March 16, 2020, but who had not yet travelled to Canada

"Temporary foreign workers" entering Canada are on the list and therefore should be viewed as "essential travel".

The March 20 update stated that foreign nationals should not try to travel to Canada immediately as IRCC will announce when these exemptions are in place. Details are expected to be provided soon.

Unlike the United States approach, Canada has not (at least at the time of writing) enumerated a list of what constitutes "essential travel" for land border entries (except for the above-noted clarification on the entry of some foreign nationals).

Canadian citizens and permanent residents may enter Canada through a land port of entry.

Note that those entering Canada are expected to isolate themselves for 14 days.


The Canadian and U.S. governments have moved quickly to introduce rules around travel restrictions at the land ports of entry while trying to maintain trade and commerce. Given the speed that things are moving, there remains many unanswered questions and some gaps in the information and details that have been provided. We expect that further details will be provided and that the rules will evolve.

Given the fluid situation, readers should make sure that they review the latest information in case policies and procedures change.

For updates on travel to Canada restrictions, refer to this IRCC pages: Travel restriction measures: COVID-19 program delivery.

We have provided other immigration updates regarding travel by air and other immigration implications of the COVID-19 situation, so please also review those other sources.

Please contact a member of the Gowling WLG Immigration Group if you have any questions.

NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Information made available on this website in any form is for information purposes only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. You should not rely on, or take or fail to take any action based upon this information. Never disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking legal advice because of something you have read on this website. Gowling WLG professionals will be pleased to discuss resolutions to specific legal concerns you may have.
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