Travel Restrictions Between Canada and Latin America

COVID-19 Reports on Latin America and the Caribbean: No. 48 (En Français)

It has been a year since an unprecedented nation-wide lockdown to curb the spread of a novel coronavirus came into effect in Canada. To date, there are over 900,000 reported cases of COVID-19 and over 22,105 deaths in all of Canada and counting. The relevant federal legislation to COVID-19 is the Quarantine Act, SC 2005, c 20. Each province and territory also has its own applicable emergency legislation. As the pandemic evolved, various tools are now available to track different activities related to it. Here is a Corona virus tracker for Canada; here is one for vaccination efforts

Source: Government of Canada

The tourism industry has been particularly hard-hit throughout this entire global public health emergency. Government-imposed travel bans impeded Canadian travellers’ ability to return home during the initial lockdown, and millions of Canadians were discouraged from vacationing in popular destinations. Those Canadian politicians, who risked travelling during the second wave of the pandemic, were taken to task.

Having been granted exemptions from the travel restrictions, tens of thousands of Caribbean and Latin American temporary foreign workers arrived in Canada during the first Canadian wave of the pandemic. Harsh realities related to the unacceptable living conditions and high rates of infections among the temporary foreign workers were quickly exposed. The Canadian government has launched a consultation and invested in some measures in an effort to improve conditions. These men and women represent an important part of the Canadian labour force, and play a key role in the preservation of Canada’s food security, and in the success of Canada’s key industries

This report highlights the impact of COVID-19 on Canadian travellers and on the Caribbean/Latin American labour force, who find seasonal employment in Canada each year. 

Canadian Travellers in Latin America and the Caribbean

When COVID-19 hit the world late in 2019, Canadians were still travelling to Latin American and Caribbean vacation spots. However, by mid-March 2020, the situation took a new turn. Virtually everything shut down on March 17 when a lockdown came into effect in Canadian provinces and territories.

The news media started reporting about the stranded cruise ship with passengers exhibiting flu-like symptoms searching for somewhere to dock. Feature stories about Canadians who had travelled to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean who were requesting for government assistance to come back home started to emerge in the news media. Some of the destinations included Peru, Chile, Honduras, Ecuador and Panama.

The Government of Canada made the following announcements that impacted Canadians travelling to the Latin America and Caribbean regions:

  • March 14, 2020: A travel advisory to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada and all cruise ship travel.
  • March 16, 2020: All non-Canadians and non-permanent residents were banned from entering Canada.
  • March 18, 2020: The Canada-US border was closed to non-essential travel.
  • On March 21, 2020, the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced new measures for Canadian citizens, Canadian permanent residents or immediate family members of Canadian citizens who were stranded abroad. Repatriation flights at affordable prices were arranged by the government to different countries including Peru.
  • May 28, 2020: Cruise ships operating overnight accommodation of over 100 or more people prohibited from Canadian waters until October 31, 2020.
  • February 4, 2021: Cruise ship prohibition extended until February 28, 2022.

During the summer months and Christmas holiday period, some Canadians risked taking vacation in destinations in the Caribbean and Latin America. Social media played a critical role in exposing government officials who went away during the Christmas holidays when Canada was battling the second wave of the pandemic. For example, Ontario’s Finance Minister was dropped from the cabinet for taking a vacation trip to the Caribbean island of St. Barts when information started trending on social media. There were sightings of celebrities like Drake in the Caribbean island of Barbados as it reopened to wealthy visitors and digital nomads who can afford the new working visas.

More recently, a new set of travel restrictions were announced on January 29, 2021. Ottawa announced that Canadian airlines agreed to suspend all flights from and to Mexico and the Caribbean until April 30, 2021, citing COVID-19 concerns in the region. Families and industries affected by the ban have criticized the travel freeze and raised questions regarding the targeting of these particular countries. The governments of both Mexico and Jamaica have expressed their concerns when it comes to the financial impact of such measures on their national and local economies heavily dependent on international tourism, particularly from Canada.

Latin American and Caribbean Workers in Canada
Source: Government of Canada

Many temporary foreign workers in Canada are predominantly from Latin America and Caribbean countries. On April 14, 2020, an exemption was granted to the travel restrictions for temporary foreign workers, foreigners with student and work visas. Over the spring and summer of 2020, many stories emerged of foreign workers getting sick and some dying of COVID-19 due to their often subpar living and working conditions in Canada. Foreign workers can be exempt from some of the new testing and quarantining rules put in place by the government in February 2021.

Advocacy groups and NGOs in the country have sounded the alarm at how COVID-19 has brought to the fore the precarious state of migrant workers in the country. The allegations include mistreatment, lack of accountability and legal protections, and ill-prepared facilities to host these workers amid a ravaging pandemic and constantly changing travel restrictions.

Despite these concerns, industries such as farming and seafood processing continued to rely on foreign workers, particularly from Latin American and the Caribbean for their future plans this year of 2021. The latest travel ban between Canada and Mexico/Caribbean has severely marred their plans. In the meantime, advocacy groups are pushing for vaccination efforts among the foreign workers, including undocumented ones, as cases continue to climb.  

Canada and its Caribbean and Latin American neighbours are closely interconnected. While Canadian travellers were discouraged from the opportunity to enjoy the warm hospitality of its Caribbean and Latin American hosts, the pandemic exposed that Canadian hosts have not been as welcoming to its Caribbean and Latin American workers. The introduction of vaccines to prevent the spread of the virus will no doubt bring new measures into the travel, hospitality industry as well as foreign workers. As Canada begins the slow path to recovery, it is imperative that it implements positive lasting changes as to how it treats its foreign workers. COVID-19 continues to evolve with policies and legislation impacting people’s activities here in Canada and throughout the Americas. And our project will continue to monitor and to bear witness to these processes.

By Yemisi Dina, Sooin Kim and Alexia Loumankis

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