Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, the Government of Canada announced various border measures to protect the health and safety of Canadians. Most recently, the government introduced additional measures in order to encourage more people who wish to enter Canada to get their COVID-19 vaccines. Effective January 15, 2022, some foreign national travellers who were previously allowed to enter Canada without being fully vaccinated will now be required to be fully vaccinated. This bulletin will highlight which individuals are still allowed to enter Canada without being fully vaccinated and will provide information on how someone who is not fully vaccinated may be eligible to travel to Canada despite this new travel restriction.
Which Groups Are No Longer Allowed to Enter Canada Without Being Fully Vaccinated?
It is important to note that the Government of Canada has recently made some changes to the groups of persons who may be considered exempt from certain travel restrictions. Prior to January 15, 2022, the following groups were able to travel to Canada even if they were not fully vaccinated:
- Immediate family members over the age of 18 of Canadian citizens, permanent residents or persons registered under the Indian Act if they will be visiting an immediate family member in Canada for at least 15 days.
- Extended family members over the age of 18 of Canadian citizens, permanent residents or persons registered under the Indian Act if they will be visiting an extended family member in Canada for at least 15 days.
- Foreign nationals who are authorized high-performance amateur or professional athletes, trainers or coaches.
- Cross-border truck drivers.
- Temporary foreign workers in all occupations if they have a valid work permit or an approved work permit application.
- International students over the age of 18 if they have a valid study permit or an approved study permit application.
Going forward, foreign nationals that are part of any of the groups listed above will need to ensure that they are fully vaccinated prior to seeking entry to Canada.
In order to be considered fully vaccinated, an individual must have received the full series of a vaccine or a combination of vaccines, accepted by the Government of Canada, at least 14 days prior to entering Canada. To date, Canada has recognized and accepted the Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson Sinopharm, Sinovac and COVAXIN vaccines.
Under What Circumstances Can Unvaccinated Foreign Nationals Continue to Enter Canada?
After January 15, 2022, foreign nationals who are not fully vaccinated will only be allowed to enter Canada if they meet the criteria for limited exceptions, which only apply to certain groups for the time being, such as agricultural and food processing workers, marine crew members, some children under the age of 18, new permanent residents, resettling refugees, and those entering on compassionate grounds.
To obtain an exemption based on compassionate grounds, foreign nationals will need to submit a request to the Public Health Agency of Canada to receive authorization to travel to Canada on one of three grounds:
- To attend to the death of, or provide support to someone in Canada who is deemed to be critically ill by a heath-care professional in Canada;
- To provide care for someone in Canada who is deemed, by a health care professional entitled to provide health services in Canada, to have a medical reason as to why they require support in Canada, such as assisting in a birth, providing elder care, or supporting someone during pregnancy; or
- To attend a funeral or end of life ceremony of someone who resided in Canada.
Additionally, foreign nationals who are not fully vaccinated may be permitted to enter Canada if they can obtain a national interest exemption from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship or the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. The national interest exemption is intended to be used in exceptional circumstances only. As such, it is not meant to be a workaround for cases when a more appropriate exemption is not granted.
Furthermore, individuals who are not a fully vaccinated due to a medical contraindication to a COVID-19 vaccine dosage regimen may also be allowed to enter Canada, provided that they can provide evidence confirming this.
Individuals who are granted an exemption will be required to quarantine for 14 days and complete the arrival and day eight COVID-19 tests.
Moreover, the Public Health Agency of Canada has maintained its position that technicians or specialists specified by a government, manufacturer or company – to install, inspect, maintain or repair equipment as part of an existing warranty or sales agreement necessary to support critical infrastructure - may continue to enter Canada as they are providing essential services. As such, these individuals will continue to be exempt from the vaccination requirement and may continue to benefit from an exemption from the mandatory 14-day quarantine requirement. However, it is important to note that to benefit from this exception, the border officer must be convinced that there are compelling reasons, based on the public interest, for their entry to provide an essential service while in Canada.
If I Am Not Fully Vaccinated Can I Leave Canada?
Canadian citizens, permanent residents and individuals registered under the Indian Act are allowed to enter Canada without being fully vaccinated, but they will be required to quarantine for 14 days, as well as complete the arrival and day eight COVID-19 tests. However, effective November 30, 2021, Canadian citizens, permanent residents and individuals registered under the Indian Act who are not fully vaccinated are not permitted to fly on domestic, transborder, or international flights departing from Canadian airports unless they meet one of the exemptions to the vaccine requirement. Exemptions include:
- travel from remote communities
- travel for essential medical services and treatment
- emergency and urgent travel (including for urgent medical reasons)
- other exceptional travel in the national interest
- medical inability to be vaccinated
- sincere religious belief
This means Canadian citizens, permanent residents and individuals registered under the Indian Act cannot leave Canada without proof of vaccination unless they meet one of the above exemptions to the vaccine requirement or they can leave Canada through the United States if they are also a citizen or permanent resident of the United States.
The requirement to be fully vaccinated in order to leave Canada also applies to temporary residents, such as workers, students and visitors. The Government of Canada has a temporary transitional measures for unvaccinated foreign national travellers who normally reside outside of Canada and who entered Canada prior to October 30, 2021, they can leave Canada by February 28, 2022 with a valid COVID-19 test at the time of travel. After February 28, 2022, temporary residents would need to be fully vaccinated in order to leave Canada by plane unless they meet one of the exemptions to the vaccine requirement.
Foreign nationals who are fully vaccinated are generally allowed to travel to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic, subject to meeting regular admissibility requirements. Conversely, foreign nationals who are not fully vaccinated may enter Canada if they meet one of the limited exemptions to the vaccine requirement. Even valid work permit holders will need to ensure they are fully vaccinated before seeking entry to Canada.
Canada also requires proof of full vaccination from foreign nationals to fly on domestic, transborder, or international flights departing from Canadian airports unless they meet one of the exemptions to the vaccine requirement. As such, foreign nationals who are not fully vaccinated need to ensure they can enter and leave Canada without proof of fully vaccination.
New immigration policies could continue to be introduced with short notice in order to manage the COVID-19 situation in Canada. Accordingly, in order to prevent delays in your global mobility plan it is recommended that you contact your legal immigration counsel as early as possible.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.