US

Mar 20 2020

U.S. to Close Canadian and Mexican Borders to Tourism and Recreational Travel Starting March 21 For At Least 30 Days

Canada, Mexico, United States

At a glance

  • U.S. President Donald Trump and Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard announced today that the United States-Mexico border will close to non-essential travel by agreement between the two countries in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. 
  • The move follows a similar announcement from U.S. and Canadian leaders earlier this week about restrictions for travel across the northern border.
  • “Non-essential travel” is defined by DHS as travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature, including gambling and attending cultural events.
  • U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, business travelers, and those with valid U.S. travel documents are exempt from the border restrictions. However, it is possible business travelers could face additional scrutiny at the border while the new policy is being rolled-out.
  • The bar on non-essential travel becomes effective March 21 and will remain in effect for at least 30 days. 

The issue

The U.S. government continues to enact travel and border restrictions in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.  Starting March 21 and continuing for at least 30 days, the land borders with both Canada and Mexico as well as passenger rail and ferry travel will be open to only what is deemed to be “essential travel.” 

A closer look

Today U.S. President Donald Trump and Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard announced that the United States-Mexico border will be restricted to permit only essential travel, by agreement between the two countries. The announcement followed a similar announcement earlier in the week from U.S. and Canadian leaders regarding restrictions on the U.S.-Canada border.  

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the White House have provided some information on implementation of the Canadian and Mexican border restrictions. According to public announcements and an official DHS notice to be published in the Federal Register next week, the following will apply:

  • DHS defines “non-essential” travel as travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature, including sightseeing, gambling and attending cultural events.
  • “Essential” travel includes but is not limited to:
    • 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 to work in the United States
    • 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
  • Trade and business travel will continue across borders, but with additional screening.
  • U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and individuals with valid travel documents will be exempt from the restrictions.

 

The measures will be in place for at least 30 days, at which point they will be reviewed by the party countries for potential extension.

What this means for employers and foreign nationals

Implementation details available to the public so far on Canadian and Mexican border restrictions are less detailed than the recent COVID-19 presidential proclamations restricting travel from Europe, Iran, and China. 

It appears that those with any valid U.S. travel document will be exempt from the restrictions, which should include those with any type of valid U.S. visa or advance parole document.  U.S. citizens and green card holders are also not subject, though the announcements do not reference an exemption for immediate family members of these groups. Those seeking to enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program to conduct permissible B-1 business activities or entering on a valid employment-based nonimmigrant visa should be permitted to enter, but are likely to undergo additional screening. Because U.S. Customs and Border Patrol 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 Coronavirus Update Page

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