Published on: Jun 16, 2021
Since the spring of 2020, travel restrictions have been an important part of Canada's struggle against the global Covid-19 pandemic. Restrictions on who can enter the country, quarantine requirements for those who do, and the closure of the border between Canada and the United States have all led to dramatic reductions in the numbers of travellers visiting Canada. These reductions have in turn had a major impact on immigration to Canada, since fewer potential applicants are able to enter the country.
However, there are some signs that travel restrictions may be about to loosen slightly. Statements from government ministers and from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have suggested that as vaccination rates both in Canada and around the world continue to climb, fully-vaccinated individuals may be able to bypass some of the requirements currently in place.
On June 9, Minister of Health Patty Hajdu gave a statement outlining future plans to reduce quarantine requirements for people who had received complete vaccinations. Even vaccinated individuals who enter Canada are currently required to quarantine for 14 days; under the new plan, those who had both received their vaccinations 14 days before travel and also provided a negative Covid-19 test both before and after arriving would be exempt from this requirement. However, this exemption would only apply to people currently allowed to travel to Canada, a group that includes Canadian citizens and permanent residents as well as some of their family members, international students, temporary workers, and other essential groups. International tourism would still remain restricted. A precise date for this proposed change has not been set, but it would be unlikely to happen before late July at the earliest.
Hajdu was not the only minister suggesting that it might be time to update Canada's travel policies. Just days before, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested that the border closure with the United States might be up for review. These restrictions, jointly agreed between the US and Canada, prevent travel across the US-Canadian border except for essential reasons. At an online event on June 7, Trudeau suggested that a phased reopening plan might include similar provisions that would allow travellers from the US to enter Canada if fully vaccinated.
However, Trudeau did not provide either specific policy details or an expected timeline, saying only that the decision would be made based on data about infection levels and the percentage of people vaccinated in the two countries. Although no timetable has been set, many expect that the current border restrictions will be renewed when they come up for review on June 21. If Canada is able to meet its vaccination targets, new rules might come into effect during the next monthly review on July 21.
These proposed changes appear against the backdrop of declining immigration figures. April 2021 saw the lowest number of new permanent residents since the beginning of the year, with only just over 21,000 new permanent residents. If figures persist at this level, Canada will not be able to meet its target of welcoming over 400,000 new permanent residents in 2021. This comes on the heels of very disappointing immigration numbers in 2020, also as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Since immigrants are expected to be vital to Canada's post-Covid economic recovery, a failure to hit the annual target could be a cause for some concern.
However, some immigration watchers expect numbers to rise again as international travel becomes possible; discussions of relaxing travel restrictions tend to reinforce this view. In addition, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has been escalating the number of invitations to apply for permanent residence extended by its Express Entry draws. Three Express Entry draws held on May 31, June 9 and June 10 extended invitations to nearly 13,000 candidates to apply for permanent residence.
Like many Express Entry draws in 2021, these draws have included large numbers of invitations aimed at candidates within the Canadian Experience Class (CEC). Most potential applicants within the CEC are already in Canada, meaning that future immigration totals may be improved by these large-scale invitations even without travel restrictions being loosened.
Despite the advantages of increasing offers to CEC candidates, the most encouraging news for Canadian travel and immigration at present is the possibility of reduced travel restrictions. Although these discussions are unlikely to result in any changes soon, the fact that they are being discussed may be a sign of confidence in the future safety of travel, which is good news both for Canada's travel and hospitality sectors and for those who hope to move to Canada more permanently.