Tips to cross the Canada-U.S. border for immigration

Shelby Thevenot
Published: May 18, 2020

U.S. citizens and foreign nationals in the U.S. have options to immigrate to Canada even during the coronavirus pandemic.

Canada is still processing permanent and temporary immigration applications. For U.S. nationals, and visa holders, this means it is still possible to come to Canada to work, or reunite with family.

Rules for travelling to Canada from the U.S. are not as stringent as other countries, however, U.S. travellers must demonstrate that they are coming to Canada for essential reasons.

Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) lists the following as some examples of what could be considered essential travel:

Learn more about Canadian family sponsorship

The Canada-U.S. border travel restrictions are currently in place until May 21, although the Globe and Mail is reporting restrictions could be extended until June 21.

Despite federal government rules, at the end of the day, the agents at Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) determine whether or not the reason travellers give for coming to Canada is considered “essential.” CBSA has its own set of criteria for assessing whether or not travellers may be admitted into Canada, according to the Toronto Star.

On the immigration front, U.S. citizens benefit from a couple of initiatives that have been fast-tracking the work permit process since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Facilitated temporary immigration for U.S. citizens


U.S. citizens may be eligible for facilitated processing when applying for a work permit under the North American Fair Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which will soon be changed to Canada United States Mexico Agreement (CUSMA). These work permits do not usually require a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). There are three categories under NAFTA:

  • NAFTA Professional: for people who are qualified to work in one of nearly 60 targeted professions, such as teaching, science, medicine, finance, law, and others.
  • NAFTA Intra-Company Transfer: for people who had worked for a U.S.-based branch of a company for at least one year in a managerial, executive, or other position involving specialized knowledge.
  • NAFTA Traders and Investors: for people who want to trade goods or services between Canada and the U.S., or investors who have made a substantial investment in a Canadian business.

Intra-Company Transfer

Companies with locations in both Canada and the U.S. can send employees to work in Canada. The Intra-Company Transfer Program allows employees who are working in the U.S. to work at a company’s Canadian location without a LMIA.

Global Talent Stream

This fast-track process is normally available to all foreign nationals, but given that biometric centres are closed only U.S. citizens may use this option at this time. The Global Talent Stream is for people with eligible job offers in Canada’s tech industry. This stream allows work permits to be processed in as little as two weeks.

Again, in all cases, a worker’s reason for travel must be considered “essential” for the benefit of Canadian residents and the economy.

Get help with Canadian work permits

General guidelines for crossing the border

If your trip is essential, some of the following tips might help make the process easier for you and the CBSA agent:

Do not attempt entry if you are symptomatic.

You will be turned away. Stay home and get better.

Make sure your application is well documented.

For workers, establish clearly that you have a job waiting for you in Canada and that your employment is an essential service. It is also important to make it clear that your entry is non-discretionary and non-optional. For example, if your duties can be performed remotely, it might be considered “optional” to travel to Canada for work.

For family, have documented proof of your relationship with the immediate family member, their status in Canada, and the reason you must cross the border to see them. The reason should be related to reunite permanently or to care for someone who cannot otherwise get care in Canada.

Have a detailed plan as to how you will quarantine yourself for two weeks.

Make sure you have an ironclad plan for isolating yourself upon entry to Canada, or prove that you are exempt. If you cannot adequately prove that you will be able to self-isolate for two weeks, away from vulnerable people, and with access to the necessities of life, you will have to quarantine in a government-approved facility.

Call CBSA ahead of time.

In some cases, it may be beneficial to call the border crossing ahead of time and ask in advance if they will be willing to process your work permit, though a positive answer over the phone does not guarantee entry will be granted once you arrive.

Phone numbers for border crossings can be found on the CBSA website.

Find out if you are eligible for any Canadian immigration programs

Need assistance with the Temporary Work Permit application process? Contact

© 2020 CIC News All Rights Reserved

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