Jan 15 2021

U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico Land Border Restrictions Extended Through February 21

Canada, Mexico, United States

At a glance

  • CBP border restrictions permitting only essential travel across the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico land borders will be extended through February 21, 2021. The restrictions do not affect air travel.
  • Essential travel includes travel by U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and foreign nationals traveling to work in the United States, among others.  
  • Visa Waiver and other business travelers may face additional scrutiny at the border. 
  • “Non-essential travel” at land borders is not permitted, which includes travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature.

The issue

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will continue to implement the Trump Administration’s ban on “non-essential” travel across U.S. land borders and ferry travel with Canada and Mexico hrough February 21, 2021, according to a set of notifications to be published in the Federal Register. The restrictions were due to expire on January 21.

The initial ban on non-essential travel across the northern and southern borders began on March 21 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak; it was originally scheduled to expire on April 20, and has been extended several times in one-month increments. The policy may again be reviewed for possible extension in February depending on the status of the COVID emergency. The restrictions do not affect air travel.

A closer look

CBP defines “non-essential” travel as travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature, which includes sightseeing, gambling and attending cultural events.

“Essential” travel that may continue across the borders under the new restrictions includes, but is not limited to:

  • U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the United States
  • Travel for lawful cross-border trade (e.g. truck drivers carrying cargo)
  • Travel to work in the United States
  • Travel for medical purposes (e.g., to receive medical treatment in the United States)
  • Travel to attend educational institutions
  • Travel for emergency response and public health purposes (e.g., government officials or emergency responders entering the United States to assist government efforts to respond to COVID-19 or other emergencies)
  • Travel by members of the U.S. Armed Forces, and their spouses and children, returning to the United States
  • Other forms of travel as determined by the CBP on a case by case basis


The Administration has also asserted in communications that trade and business travel will be subject to additional screening. In practice, there has been some inconsistent treatment of business travelers since the border restrictions began.

What this means for employers and foreign nationals

Under existing guidance, U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident and foreign national business travel should continue across the Canadian and Mexican land borders for the duration of the border restrictions. 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. 

Fragomen is closely monitoring the Canada and Mexico border restrictions and will issue follow-up alerts as developments occur. For the latest information related to the coronavirus’ impact on immigration-related matters worldwide, please visit Fragomen’s dedicated COVID-19 website

This alert is for informational purposes only. If you have any questions, please contact the immigration professional with whom you work at Fragomen.