Updated: May 31, 2021
In 2020, as awareness of the threat of Covid-19 began to grow, Canada imposed travel restrictions intended to slow the spread of the disease. This week, Canada confirmed that travel restrictions, both long-standing closures and more recent ones, will continue to be part of Canada's plan for fighting Covid into the summer.
One of the most significant obstacles to returning to pre-Covid life is the presence of so-called "variants of concern." These variant strains of coronavirus may be more easily transmissible than others or may have more severe effects. One of the most significant outbreaks of such a variant has occurred in India, which is struggling with high rates of infection. With 26 million cases and a peak seven-day average of nearly 400,000 cases at the height of the crisis, India is one of the most severely-hit countries in the world.
In response to the high rate of infection in India, Canada imposed travel restrictions on arrivals from India and Pakistan. Travellers from these countries who want to come to Canada may do so, but they must first arrange a long stay in a third country where they can take a Covid-19 test.
The initial travel ban was set to expire on May 22, but on May 21 Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced that the restriction would be extended until June 21. Despite reductions in the infection rate in some states in India, the restrictions will continue.
In March 2020, the United States and Canada jointly agreed to close their land border in order to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. The border closure regulations include some exemptions, including for essential workers as well as for those who have to cross the border for short periods for work, such as delivery drivers. Despite these, the border closures have slashed travel between the US and Canada since they were introduced.
The Canadian and American governments review the border closure every month, with the option either of ending them or renewing them for another month. On May 20, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the border closure would be renewed yet again, meaning that the borders will be closed until at least June 21.
As vaccinations become more common in the United States and Covid-19 numbers continue to drop, some groups are advocating for reopening the borders, but at least for the moment it appears that the current situation will continue.
With travel from many countries limited, Canada faces some challenges in meeting its ambitious immigration target. Despite low numbers of new arrivals in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) remains committed to immigration goals that would see the country welcome a million new permanent residents over a three-year period.
To cope with the difficulty of welcoming immigrants during a period of reduced international travel, Canada's immigration system has shifted its focus to potential applicants for permanent residence who are already in the country. This can be seen in the high numbers of people being invited to apply as part of the Canadian Experience Class by Express Entry draws. In three Express Entry draws held on May 12, 13, 20 and 26 the government extended invitations to apply (ITAs) to over 7,000 Express Entry candidates. Of these, nearly 6,000 candidates were within the Canadian Experience Class (CEC). Because the CEC includes skilled workers who already have work experience in Canada as temporary residents, CEC candidates are usually already in the country, making it possible for them to apply without the difficulties imposed by the travel restrictions.
In addition to CEC candidates, these draws also invited applicants from the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). Over 1,000 candidates from this program were invited to apply in the May 12 and May 26 draws. Many PNP candidates, including recent graduates from Canadian universities, are already resident in Canada, making this another way in which the Canadian government can continue to increase immigration numbers while coping with international travel restrictions.
Extended border closures and travel restrictions pose challenges not only for Canada's economy but for the new immigrants who will play a vital role in rebuilding that economy in a post-Covid world. The changing nature of the danger, and therefore of the restrictions used to combat that danger, means that the landscape of Canadian immigration also changes frequently. The only constant appears to be the government's commitment to finding new ways to meet immigration targets while also protecting public health.