Updated: Oct 19, 2021
After over 18 months of closure, the land border between Canada and the United States will be partially reopened beginning on November 8, 2021. This reopening represents a significant change in the relationship between Canada and its closest neighbour.
In March 2020, in response to the growing spread of the novel coronavirus, the United States and Canada mutually agreed to restrict travel across their shared border. While essential workers such as delivery drivers remained able to cross the border, travel for non-essential reasons such as tourism was prohibited. Combined with travel restrictions from other countries, the result was a dramatic drop in travel to Canada, since the majority of visitors to the country come from the US.
Initially, the restrictions were set for a one-month period, with an optional renewal at the end of that month. As the scope of the pandemic became clear, the restrictions were renewed each month until the summer of 2021.
As vaccination levels rose in both countries, the two governments began to discuss the possibility of relaxing, rather than completely removing, some of the travel restrictions on the border. In early August, Canada permitted non-essential travel from the United States for visitors from the US. In November, the US will reciprocate, allowing vaccinated travellers from Canada to enter the country.
Visitors from Canada to the US will need to provide different types of evidence to border authorities depending on their method of travel. Anyone flying into the US will need to provide not only proof of vaccination but also evidence of a negative Covid-19 test within three days of their flight. By contrast, those entering the US by land or sea need only provide proof of vaccination, not evidence of a recent negative test. These rules also apply to anyone entering Canada from the US.
In addition to these rules for non-essential travel, new restrictions on essential travel are slated to come into effect in early 2022. Until now, essential travellers have not been subject to vaccine requirements. Anyone entering Canada for essential reasons must give proof of a negative Covid-19 test, and permission to enter is not guaranteed, but non-vaccinated travel remains possible.
However, under these new proposed travel regulations, essential travellers will need to show proof of vaccination in order to cross the border. The US will accept any vaccine recognised either by its Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the World Health Organization (WHO). One question that remains unanswered is whether US authorities will permit travel from people who have received two doses of different vaccines; this type of treatment is relatively common in Canada compared to the US.
Because the United States is the leading source of travel to Canada, the August reopening of the border for visitors from the United States may have a more visible impact on Canada than the decision to allow Canadians into the US. However, the changes suggest some of the future ways in which travel may be regulated as the two governments move toward harmonising regulations for essential and non-essential border crossings.
As travel restrictions become looser and more and more people receive their vaccines, increased travel between other countries and Canada may also make it easier for would-be permanent residents to complete their applications. Travel restrictions, together with office closures and other administrative delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, have delayed many residency applications. As a result, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has focused primarily on extending invitations to apply for permanent residency to people within the Canadian Experience Class (CEC). CEC applicants tend to be living and working in Canada already, making it easier for them to apply. Similarly, candidates eligible under the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) are more likely to be in Canada, which is why recent Express Entry draws have focused on these candidates. Express Entry draws between mid-September and mid-October offered invitations to apply to nearly 2,000 PNP candidates.
Historically, high levels of travel between Canada and the United States have been the norm, with some workers crossing the border very frequently. The safety measures necessary to protect the public against Covid-19 put a temporary dent in these numbers, but all indications are that both the American and Canadian governments are eager to see them return to their former levels.
However, the vaccination requirement for non-essential travel, and the prospect of a similar requirement even for essential travel, show the shape of a new normal. Even as travel levels begin to return to their pre-Covid levels, the old rules that governed international travel may not return.