Essential Travel Only Across the Mexican and Canadian Land Borders Until At Least April 20

The issue

Following the Trump Administration’s ban on “non-essential” travel across the U.S. land borders (and ferry travel) with Mexico and Canada, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has provided guidance on the forms of “essential travel” permitted under the new restrictions, in a set of notices to be published tomorrow in the Federal Register.

The ban on non-essential travel across the northern and southern borders will be in effect until at least April 20 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.  At that time, the policy will be reviewed for possible extension.

A closer look

According to CBP, “non-essential” travel is defined 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

A companion Center for Disease Control rule states that those will valid U.S. travel documents and business visitors under the Visa Waiver program are to be exempt from the restrictions. However, the Administration has also asserted in communications that all trade and business travel will be subject to additional screening.

What this means for employers and foreign nationals

According to existing guidance, U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident and foreign national business travel will continue across both the Canadian and Mexican border for the duration of the new border restrictions. In addition, any individual with a valid travel document should be permitted to enter the United States. However, 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.


Published: 23 March 2020

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