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COVID-19 Immigration Update

The US Restricts Immigration

On April 20, 2020, President Trump tweeted that he would close down immigration in response to COVID-19.  As this was less than descriptive, a Proclamation was issued on April 22nd to further clarify what exactly those 140 characters meant. First and foremost, Trump is looking to suspend and limit the entry of those who are not U.S. Citizens. More specifically, the suspension will limit entry to those currently outside the U.S. who do not already have a valid immigrant visa and travel document. The administration is also implementing a suspension of the issuance of Green Cards and Immigrant visas for at least 60 days.

Good news, there is a relatively long list of exemptions to this entry ban which include:

  • Lawful Permanent Residents
  • Medical or health care professionals
  • Individuals applying for EB-5 immigrant investor visa program
  • Spouses of U.S. citizens
  • Children of U.S. citizens under 21
  • Individuals who would further important U.S. law enforcement objectives
  • Members of the U.S. armed forces, their spouses and children
  • Individuals and their spouses or children eligible for Special Immigrant Visas
  • Individuals whose entry would be in the national interest

Further, there is a special section of the proclamation which directs the Secretaries of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security to review all non-immigrant programs and “recommend to the President other appropriate measures to stimulate the U.S. economy and ensure the ‘prioritization, hiring and employment’ of U.S. workers”.  In line with what we’ve seen from the Trump administration thus far, it is not unreasonable to expect that whatever decisions relating to immigration are made will be implemented through policy, not a change in the law. Moreover, we will see the changes in policy exercised through the adjudication of applications submitted to United States Citizen and Immigration Service, the U.S. Consulates worldwide and at Ports of Entry.

It is apparent the focus of the proclamation is to protect and stimulate the U.S. economy. While no specifics have been provided since the Proclamation, we can likely expect that any entry to the U.S. or adjudication of an application (non-immigrant and immigrant alike) will have a much higher likelihood of approval if the employer is creating jobs for Americans in addition to bringing in foreign workers. Employers submitting applications through all venues will need to ensure they have provided all relevant documentation and prepared their employees for in person interviews. The proclamation alluded to further changes, which under the Trump administration will likely continue to evolve, and our team is monitoring closely.

Canada Mandates Quarantine After Travel

In its next stage of the fight against COVID-19, the Government of Canada as of April 15, 2020 updated an Emergency Order under the Quarantine Act. Any traveller arriving in Canada (whether showing symptoms of COVID-19 or otherwise) is required to isolate for 14 days and now cannot isolate or quarantine in a place where they would be in contact with people who are vulnerable. This additional measure includes adults 65 years old or over or people with pre-existing medical conditions. Any person may be denied entry to Canada if they are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

Importantly, travellers arriving in Canada, whether they have symptoms or not, will need to confirm that they have a quarantine plan; they must confirm they have a suitable place to isolate or quarantine, with access to basic necessities, such as food or medication. If travellers do not have a suitable quarantine plan, they must go to a place designated by the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada.

Travellers are also required to wear a non-medical mask while travelling to wherever they will be isolating or quarantining and will be provided one if they do not have their own.

Ignoring isolation can cause big, expensive problems. Failure to comply could mean maximum penalties of a fine up to $750,000 or imprisonment for six months, or both. A person who causes a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person while willfully or recklessly contravening the Quarantine Act or the regulations could be liable for a fine of up to $1,000,000 or imprisonment of up to three years, or both. Spot checks are to be conducted to verify compliance.

There are, however, limited exceptions to the requirement to isolate or quarantine including certain persons who cross the border regularly. The exceptions focus on ensuring the flow of goods and essential services. Detailed review of the Order or seeking the advice of an immigration lawyer is recommended to clarify whether you or your employees may be exempt from these requirements.

Employers bringing in foreign workers and returning Canadians alike should ensure they are well-prepared when entering Canada to ensure they can withstand scrutiny at the border regarding their next steps.

If you have questions about this post, or have any other immigration questions, please contact the Immigration team at Field Law.