Update: Non-optional and non-discretionary travel: COVID-19 program

The Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has outlined the difference between optional/discretionary and non-optional/discretionary travel. These measures have come into effect due to the impact of COVID-19. Additionally, the onus is on the foreign national to demonstrate the purpose of travel. In simple terms, the traveler must prove the reason they are travelling to Canada is sufficiently important to warrant exemption.

Moreover, restrictions vary depending on where the person is travelling from. Those entering Canada are still required to quarantine for 14 days. However, symptomatic travelers will not be permitted entry into Canada.

Further, travelers departing from any other country besides the United States can be prohibited entry. Specifically if, 1) they are not covered by any exemptions outlined below; or, 2) they are travelling for an optional and discretionary purpose. Similarly, those entering Canada from the United States will be denied entry if they are travelling for an optional or discretionary purpose.

New Term: Immediate Family

The definition of immediate family members was revised for this order. For the purpose of the new order it includes: parents or step parents, a parent’s or step-parent’s spouse or common-law partner, and a guardian or tutor. Guardians or tutors are people who are responsible for living with a foreign national minor who is living apart from their family. The guardian or tutor must demonstrate that they reside at the same address as the minor. Broadening the definition of immediate family members will assist minors and dependents. The guidelines for the officer dictate that they should be flexible with documentation provided as evidence.

Nonetheless, family ties will not automatically qualify a foreign national for travel. The traveler will be required to show they are not travelling for an optional or discretionary purpose.

Optional or Discretionary

As per the dictionary, Optional is defined as “available to be chosen but not obligatory”. And, discretionary is defined as “available for use”. Both of these terms connotes a meaning of availability to the user but not something that is required. Thus, the order uses these terms to determine what reasons for entering Canada can be excluded. Travel for optional or discretionary purposes is broadly defined. But, the order includes travel for tourism, recreation and entertainment.

Some examples of travel for optional or discretionary purposes:
  • Family visits or vacation.
  • The birth of grandchild, nephew, niece, cousin, etc.
    • Parents of a child may be considered non-discretionary. This will require further review
  • Spending time at a secondary residence. Including entry for upkeep or maintenance.
  • Attending a funeral.
Some examples of non-optional or non-discretionary:
  • Economic service and supply chains.
  • Critical infrastructure support.
  • Health, safety and security reasons.
  • Supporting Indigenous communities.
  • Transiting through Canada for non-optional or non-discretionary purposes.
  • Entering Canada to work, study or land as a permanent resident, with appropriate documentation.
  • Tending to family matters for non-optional or non-discretionary purposes when there is no one else available in Canada to assist.
    • Such as: bringing supplies to elderly parents or tending to sick family members.
  • Anything else deemed by an officer to fall under the category of non-optional or non-discretionary purposes. It will be considered on a case-by-case basis
A list of Travel restriction exemptions. For more information click here.
Immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents. Key takeaway.
  • Must have required travel documents. Such as: supporting documents, passports, marriage certificates, birth certificate, etc.
  • They should be coming for non-discretionary reasons. Not tourism, recreation or entertainment purposes.
  • Child’s age and dependency play an important role in the officer’s assessment.
Family Reunification.

To be eligible for this exemption two or more foreign nationals who are immediate family members must authorize one or more of the family members to enter Canada. While they must be a resident in Canada, the family member does not have to be a citizen or permanent resident. This means an immediate family member who is a worker, visitor, student or protected person.

International Students.

Students must show they have a valid study permit and a letter of introduction dated on or before March 18. This exemption is made for students who were already enrolled at a school or were accepted prior to the travel restrictions being set.

Temporary Workers.

The worker should have been established in Canada or made arrangements to come work before the travel restrictions were set. Further, the exemption includes new workers in critical industries, such as: agriculture, food processing, health, transportation and emergency services. It is recommended to have a valid work permit or a letter of introduction from IRCC. Workers who only have a letter of introduction should also have an active offer of employment.

Additionally, the order has created a subsection of permit-exempt work. Which includes: emergency services, students in health fields, and workers seeking to enter and remain in Canada solely to become a member of a crew of transportation, this includes international transportation. Workers can self identify at the border, but they will be asked for proof from the officer.

Permanent resident visa holders.

Exemption is given to those who were approved and eligible to travel to Canada to become landed permanent residents on or before March 18, 2020.  Individuals are given exemption because many have already made arrangements to settle in Canada.

To find out more click here.


If you have any questions or concerns regarding any immigration matters, please do not hesitate to contact our office at P: 204-944-8889 or E lawoffice@fridman.ca

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