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Non-optional and non-discretionary travel: COVID-19 program delivery

Non-optional and non-discretionary travel: COVID-19 program delivery

This section contains policy, procedures and guidance used by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada staff. It is posted on the Department’s website as a courtesy to stakeholders.

Air travel and border measures have been implemented to protect the health and safety of Canadians by restricting optional and discretionary international travel. These instructions describe IRCC’s role in supporting the administration of these measures and provide guidance on how to assess non-optional and non-discretionary travel.

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Restrictions overview

Restrictions vary depending on from where the foreign national is departing. However, any COVID-19-symptomatic travellers will not be permitted to enter Canada.

Foreign nationals seeking to travel to Canada from any country other than the United States while the travel restrictions are in place need to satisfy government officials that

  • they are covered by an exemption in the Orders, and
  • they are travelling for a non-optional and non-discretionary purpose

Foreign nationals seeking to travel to Canada from the United States while the travel restrictions are in place need to satisfy government officials that

  • they are travelling for a non-optional and non-discretionary purpose

For more information on travel restrictions affecting foreign nationals, see Travel restriction measures: COVID-19 program delivery.

Regardless of whether the foreign national is travelling from the United States or any other country, upon entry, they will be required to self-quarantine for a period of 14 days. They will be asked to provide evidence of a quarantine plan, such as

  • where they will stay
  • how they will get groceries and medications without going to the store
  • whether there will be vulnerable people where they’re staying

This information is pertinent to an officer’s decision as to whether travel is for a non-optional or non-discretionary purpose.

Examples of travel for a non-optional or non-discretionary purpose

The exemptions under the Orders do not apply to foreign nationals travelling for optional or discretionary purposes. The onus is on the foreign national to demonstrate the purpose of their travel.

Broad definition

Travel for optional or discretionary purposes is broadly defined in the Orders as including (but not limited to) travel for the purposes of tourism, recreation and entertainment.

Some examples of discretionary or optional travel are

  • to visit family for a vacation
  • for the birth of a grandchild, nephew, niece, cousin, etc. (For the parent of a child, this may be considered non-discretionary travel; however, it will still require assessment.)
  • to spend time at a secondary residence (vacation home, hunting or fishing lodge, etc.). This includes entry for upkeep or maintenance purposes.
  • to attend the funeral of a family member (This purpose of travel would be improbable due to quarantine measures and limits to the number of attendees at funerals under provincial restrictions.)

Travel for the following purposes would be considered non-optional or non-discretionary:

  • economic services and supply chains
  • critical infrastructure support
  • health (immediate medical care), safety and security
  • supporting Indigenous communities
  • transiting through Canada for non-optional or non-discretionary purposes
  • studying in Canada if already approved for a study permit on or before March 18
  • tending to family matters for non-optional or non-discretionary purposes (such as bringing supplies to elderly parents or tending to sick family members) when there is no one else available in Canada to assist
  • any other activities that are deemed non-optional or non-discretionary by the Government of Canada or based on an officer’s assessment

Family reunification

Officers should be aware that family ties will not automatically qualify the foreign national for non-optional or non-discretionary travel. Family members will be required to show that they are not travelling for a discretionary or optional purpose such as a routine family visit.

Some examples of non-discretionary or non-optional travel for the purposes of family reunification are (not an exhaustive list)

  • to take up full-time residence in Canada (this applies to prospective permanent residents as well as temporary residents who are seeking entry to Canada to live with immediate family members)
  • to care for an ill family member or a family member who is unable to care for themselves when no other arrangements can be made (the 14-day quarantine for travellers will be factored into whether the travel is discretionary)
  • for foreign national immediate family member(s) (as per the definition in the Order in Council), to spend the pandemic period with their Canadian citizen family member so they can help to ensure each other’s health, safety and well-being (This section is specifically to allow for the reunification of family members where it would be beneficial to all parties, as the reunification of family members is a key point of the Order in Council. This allows for families to be together during this difficult time.)
  • shared custody agreement across borders, as this would be complying with a court order

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