As of June 18th, Canada’s borders remain under a set of measures aiming at restricting international and domestic travel. Travel and flight restrictions are set to be lifted by the end of the month, but there is no tell whether the federal government will aim to extend such measures. While Immigration Minister Mendicino has reiterated that Canada sees immigration as key to its economic recovery and its demographic ageing problem, it is as of today less certain how much is the government willing to commit to reopen borders as soon as possible.
Some, such as former immigration minister Jason Kenney, have called for a swift development of strategies and planning to allow border reopening without a heightened risk of coronavirus outbreak from abroad. Jason Kenney is now Prime Minister of Alberta, a province that has flourished under the immigration plan devised by Kenney between 2008 and 2013. Kenney, who sought to modernise the Canadian immigration system, is also steadily utilising the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) to boost the province’s economy, attracting and inviting skilled workers to essential jobs that require immediate attention.
New measures to be implemented after border reopening
But how would Canada reopen its borders? Kenney suggests to look at the example of Iceland or New Zealand, countries that after strict lockdown measures gradually eased restrictions for international travellers without severe consequences. Iceland, for example, devised a strategy aiming to offer COVID-19 testing upon entry for international travellers, and if such travellers test negative, they will be exempt from the mandatory two-week quarantine after entry. Meanwhile, Canadian airline, hotel and tourism industry are pleading with the government for more proactivity when it comes to developing a reliable strategy for securing, and allowing, international and domestic travel. Many companies urge the government to reopen borders, while at the same time enforcing stricter health safety measures such as mask-wearing, temperature-checks and rapid testing at airports.
Companies have been adamant in voicing their opposition to two-week quarantine as a measure that discourages travellers from coming into the country. While the federal government had previously committed to a gradual easing of border restrictions, following new developments, the Canada-U.S. border is to remain shut to non-essential travel for another 30 days, up to July 21. The agreement was reached on June 16, and it once again prohibits all kind of non-essential travel between the land and air border of the two countries. Canadian citizens, permanent residents, temporary foreign workers and international students who hold a valid study permit, are all allowed to enter Canada. Also immediate family members that seek entry for a non-discretionary and non-optional travel may do so, provided they can justify it correctly. While there are has been flexibility between border agencies, it is as of today unclear just how much can Canadian tourism industry go on at this pace.
Many regions, including Alberta and British Columbia, have thus opted to seek action elsewhere, turning away from the federal government. For instance, British Columbia issued up to 276 invitations as part of its new Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) draw through the Express Entry system. Minimum scores ranged around 100 points. Provincial draws have been seen as injecting new blood and enlivening the already-worn local economies of the provinces. Alberta, under the leadership of Jason Kenney, had previously invited through the Express Entry draws candidates with scores as low as 352. This shows that PNP and Express Entry programs can be used effectively and proactively by provinces to bypass restrictions. We can expect more provinces to take an active role for immigration intake in the coming months if the federal government remains passive to the situation.