On Tuesday, March 24, 2020, the .US. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a Notification in the Federal Register providing the details of last week’s announcements by the United States and Canada of a bilateral decision to temporarily close the US-Canada land border to non-essential travel.  This measure is in addition to restrictions on air travel to Canada implemented on March 18, 2020.  The air travel restrictions include an exemption for flights arriving from The United States.

Tuesday’s Federal Register Notification provides the following information:

  • Land ports of entry and ferry terminals along the US-Canadian border will suspend normal operations and process for entry only those travelers engaged in “essential travel.”
  • This temporary alteration in land ports of entry operations should not interrupt legitimate trade between the two nations or disrupt critical supply chains that ensure food, fuel, medicine, and other critical materials reach individuals on both sides of the border.
  • “Essential travel” includes, but is not limited to, the following:
    • US 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 (e.g., individuals working in the farming or agriculture industry who must travel between the United States and Canada in furtherance of such work);
    • 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 Canada);
    • Individuals engaged in official government travel or diplomatic travel;
    • Members of the US Armed Forces, and the spouses and children of members of the US Armed Forces, returning to the United States; and
    • Individuals engaged in military-related travel or operations.
  • Individuals traveling for tourism purposes (g., sightseeing, recreation, gambling, or attending cultural events) do not fall into the definition of “essential travel” for purposes of the March 24, 2020, DHS Notification.
  • The Secretary of DHS has directed the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to prepare and distribute appropriate guidance to CBP personnel on implementation of the temporary measures. The Commissioner “may determine that other forms of travel, such as travel in furtherance of economic stability or social order, constitute ‘essential travel,’” under the DHS Notification. Further, the Commissioner “may, on an individualized basis and for humanitarian reasons or for other purposes in the national interest, permit the processing of travelers to the United States not engaged in ‘essential travel.’”

The Federal Register Notification, follows a brief statement on the bilateral border closing released by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday, March 20, 2020.  The Prime Minister’s statement, entitled, “US-Canada joint initiative: Temporary restriction of travelers crossing the U.S.-Canada border for non-essential purposes,” defines “non-essential” travel to include “travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature.” The Prime Minister emphasized that the temporary measure would not affect the substantial trade (in excess of $2.4 billion daily) or critical supply chains that exist between the two countries:

The United States and Canada recognize it is critical we preserve supply chains between both countries. These supply chains ensure that food, fuel, and life-saving medicines reach people on both sides of the border. Supply chains, including trucking, will not be impacted by this new measure. Americans and Canadians also cross the land border every day to do essential work or for other urgent or essential reasons, and that travel will not be impacted.

The temporary measure, covering land ports and ferry terminals only, will be in effect until April 20, 2020, and will be reviewed by both parties after that date. Canadian citizens and residents returning to their homes in Canada will continue to be encouraged to self-isolate for two weeks; while US citizens returning to the United States may be subjected to enhanced health screening and self-isolation as well.

***

If you wish to receive periodic updates on this or other topics related to the pandemic, you can be added to our COVID-19 “Special Interest” mailing list by subscribing here. For any other legal questions related to this pandemic, please contact the Firm’s COVID-19 Core Response Team at FW-SIG-COVID-19-Core-Response-Team@mayerbrown.com.