Politics

Travel exemptions offered to students, foreign workers as Canada closes border to stop COVID-19

Canada has shut the border to all non-essential travellers, but there are exceptions to the rules for some, including foreign nationals coming to Canada to work, study or live.

New restrictions will mean asylum seekers will be turned back anywhere along the border

The United States border crossing is seen Wednesday, March 18, in Lacolle, Que. The Canada-U.S. border was closed to all non-essential travel in both directions as of midnight. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Canada has shut the border to all non-essential travellers, but there will be exceptions for some foreign nationals coming to Canada to work, study or live permanently.

The exemptions include seasonal agricultural workers, fish and seafood workers, caregivers and all other temporary foreign workers, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

On Saturday, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau stressed the importance of the foreign workers to Canada's food chain.

"Temporary foreign workers are absolutely necessary for our farms and our agribusiness, filling over 60,000 jobs across the country," she said.

"Our very food security depends on them."

But IRCC warns that people planning to come to Canada under these exceptions should not travel immediately. The government will announce when the exemptions are formally in place, which is expected some time next week.

Travel exemptions also include international students who already held a study permit or had been approved for one when travel restrictions kicked in on March 18.



Applicants approved for permanent residence in Canada before the travel restrictions were announced March 16, but who have not travelled to Canada, are also exempted from the travel restrictions.

Foreign nationals coming to Canada through these program will be considered "essential travel" with regards to land border restrictions. They will be subject to screening measures before travel and must isolate for 14 days after arriving in Canada.

The border to the U.S. closed at midnight, and as part of measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, the government also announced Friday that asylum seekers trying to enter Canada outside official border points would be turned back. That move would effectively halt asylum seekers from crossing into the country at Roxham Road in Quebec under Canada's Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA).

The STCA requires asylum seekers to make their refugee claims in the first "safe" country they come to, whether it's Canada or the U.S., but one of the exceptions allows persons to make a claim in the other country if they enter outside an official border point.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair's office confirmed to CBC that other exceptions in the STCA that apply to people trying to enter at official points of entry are also suspended.

"The changes that are being put in place mean that the Quarantine Act provisions take precedence over IRPA (Immigration and Refugee Protection Act)  and the STCA," said a statement from Blair's office.

The only people who will be allowed to proceed with a refugee claim are:

  • A U.S. citizen.
  • A stateless habitual resident of the U.S.
  • Foreign national parents or guardians of a minor U.S. citizen who are accompanying them in making a claim.
  • An unaccompanied foreign nation minor.

The statement says this is applicable for anywhere on the border, whether or not it is an official port of entry. " All other refugee claimants will be directed back to the U.S.," the statement reads.

Breach of international law

The reciprocal agreement on irregular migrants, which Trudeau called an "exceptional" and temporary measure, was signed with the U.S. on Friday. The development came just one day after the government announced all border-crossers would be under quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, and that the federal government was looking for space to shelter the arrivals.

Amnesty International Canada called it a "24-hour policy about-face" and a "shameful breach of international law" that risks further endangering lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This is beyond disappointing and disgraceful," said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, in a statement.

The decision could further inflame misconceptions and racism rather than offering reassurance and leadership, he said.

"When it comes to refugees, Canada is stepping back at a time when we need to step forward," Neve said.

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