What is the Meaning of the US- Canada and US-Mexico Temporary Border Closures due to the COVID19 Pandemic?

To limit the further spread of Coronavirus, the United States entered into joint initiatives with Canada and Mexico to temporarily close its Northern and Southern borders for all non-essential travel, effective March 21, 2020, for a 30-day period.  Essential commercial activity will not be impacted. Please read on for a helpful FAQ on these provisions.

What travel is restricted?

Only “non-essential” travel across the US- Canad and US-Mexico borders is restricted temporarily.  “Non-essential” travel includes travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature – such as sightseeing, recreation, gambling, or attending cultural events. At this time, the border closure measure does not apply to air, freight rail, or sea travel between the United States and Mexico, but does apply to passenger rail and ferry travel between the United States and Mexico.

Who can still enter the U.S. from Canada or Mexico, for what purpose, and with what documentation?

The following categories of lawful travelers are deemed to be essential and as such, explicitly exempt from the border restrictions:

  • U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the United States;
  • Individuals traveling for medical purposes (e.g., to receive medical treatment in the United States);
  • Individuals traveling to attend educational institutions;
  • Individuals traveling to work in the United States;
  • Individuals traveling for emergency response and public health purposes (e.g., government officials or emergency responders entering the United States to support Federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial government efforts to respond to COVID-19 or other emergencies);
  • Individuals engaged in lawful cross-border trade (e.g., truck drivers supporting the movement of cargo between the United States and Mexico);
  • Individuals engaged in official government travel or diplomatic travel;
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the spouses and children of members of the U.S. Armed Forces, returning to the United States; and
  • Individuals engaged in military-related travel or operations.
  • Other forms of travel as determined by the CBP on a case by case basis

As such, foreign nationals who have proper visa and other immigration documents to enter the U.S. for education, employment or for business visit should be permitted to enter the U.S. from Canada or Mexico.  However, because CBP officers have wide discretion to inspect entrants, foreign nationals should expect detailed questioning about their employment or business activities in the United States. It is strongly advisable that individuals entering the U.S. for permitted purpose carry with themselves not only the required immigration documents, but also documents from their employer/ school/ business partner confirming the essential purpose of their entry to the United States. Absent specific guidance, it is our understanding that CBP Officers at the US-Canada and US- Mexico ports of entry may not process new application for TN or L admission for individuals who were not previously granted such status, or such processing would be within the CBP discretion and possibly subject to heightened scrutiny.

How long are the Travel Restrictions Going to Last?

These restrictions are temporary in nature and shall remain in effect until 11:59 p.m. EDT on April 20, 2020, at which point, both parties will review the measures.

What Can Travelers expect at the US-Canada or US-Mexico borders?

CBP notes that individuals subject to the order “will not be held in congregate areas for processing by CBP and instead will immediately be turned away from ports of entry.” Those encountered between ports of entry after crossing the border “similarly will not be held in congregate areas for processing and instead, to the maximum extend feasible, will immediately be returned to their country of last transit.” Additionally, CBP is encouraging people to exercise caution by avoiding unnecessary contact with others.

Lastly, U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and the other travelers who are exempt from this action will receive the same processing, evaluation and potential CDC medical screening that all entrants undergo at U.S. Ports of Entry.

We are closely monitoring the situation as it develops and will issue subsequent alerts, as needed.