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COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on Canada’s immigration and labour mobility policies. Many foreign nationals are currently prohibited from entering Canada until further notice. New travel policies and/or exemptions are also being implemented which limit the number of exceptions to those who can benefit from the bar on entry to Canada.   

As immigration and employment lawyers, we wanted to address some key issues for foreign nationals and/or temporary foreign workers to consider prior to their arrival in Canada, or during their stay in Canada during COVID-19.

As of the time of publication of this article, the following groups of foreign nationals can enter Canada either by air or land:

  • Temporary foreign workers who hold a valid work permit or who are approved for a work permit and have received a Port-of-Entry letter
  • International Experience Canada (“IEC”) participants who have not yet received their work permits but who have a valid job offer to enter Canada (this job offer does not need to be in an essential sector)
  • IEC participants who have previously received their work permits and were outside of Canada temporarily
  • International students who held a valid study permit, or were approved for a study permit, at the time travel restrictions took effect (March 18, 2020)
  • Permanent resident applicants who had been approved for permanent residence before March 18, 2020, but who have not travelled to Canada yet

Beyond specific categories intended to support individuals and employees arriving in Canada, there are other important factors for foreign nationals and employees to keep in mind, as laid out further below.

Mandatory Quarantine and Isolation Plan

Since March 26, 2020, any individual entering Canada has been required to self-isolate for fourteen (14) days. This quarantine period is strictly enforced both by Immigration Canada and local police authorities.  Those found violating quarantine requirements can be subject to heavy fines and/or jail time.

Upon entering Canada, individuals (whether employees or otherwise) must present to an immigration officer an isolation plan which outlines how and where they intend to quarantine for the fourteen (14) days. This includes, for example, details relating to transportation to the quarantine space, how food/groceries will be attained, and securing of other basics.

Individuals and employees will also be required to wear a non-medical mask or face covering during travels from the Port of Entry to isolation location.

Exemptions to the Mandatory Quarantine Period

There are currently a range of exemptions to the mandatory quarantine requirements, including for employees who are deemed to be working in essential sectors.

Immigration specifically exempts individuals entering Canada for the purposes of employment in an essential job or function as identified in Minimizing the Risk of Exposure to COVID-19 in Canada Order (Mandatory Isolation) No. 3. The exemption specifically applies to those working in sectors relating to the processes, systems, facilities, technologies, networks, assets, and services essential to the health, safety or economic well-being of Canadians and the effective functioning of the government.

This includes those working in the following ten (10) sectors:

  • Energy and Utilities
  • Information and Communication Technologies
  • Finance
  • Health
  • Food
  • Water
  • Transportation
  • Safety
  • Government
  • Manufacturing

Setting aside the above, the exemption does not apply to an individual or employee who has signs or symptoms of COVID-19.

Family Reunification

Finally, it is also important to consider whether a foreign national will be able to reunite with their immediate family members based on the current travel restrictions.  

Accompanying family members may specifically be issued written authorization under the family reunification provision if they are not otherwise qualified under any other exemption. However, their travel must still be non-discretionary.

The objective of this exemption is to facilitate unity of immediate family members who have or would be separated because of the current travel restrictions because of COVID-19.

Immediate family members include individuals such as, parents, step-parents, common-law partners, and spouses. 

Immigration officers and case processing officers are being instructed to assess the circumstances surrounding the travel prior to providing a written exemption. They must be satisfied that the foreign national is not travelling for an optional or discretionary purpose.

If you are a family member of a foreign national who is returning to Canada for the purposes of reunification, it is strongly recommended to bring the following:

  • Copy of your immediate family member’s work permit, study permit, temporary resident permit, or visitor record (visitor record may not meet an exemption in all cases)
  • Proof of relationship to family member
  • Detailed reason for travel
  • Proof of temporary resident visa or Electronic Travel Authorization
  • Written authorization from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) to be eligible to travel to Canada
    • This can be obtained by making a request to IRCC.


While transferring to Canada temporarily or permanently involves many considerations in the best of times, COVID-19 has amplified both the challenges and steps required. As employment and workplace immigration lawyers, we consistently help employers and foreign nationals transferring to Canada, including through difficult times.     

If you are a foreign national, temporary foreign worker, or an employer employing many foreign nationals and are looking for more information with respect to how COVID-19 has or may affect your travel plans to come to Canada, or otherwise, please contact Toronto workplace immigration and employment lawyers, Sultan Lawyers at 416-214-5111 or here.

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