U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will continue to implement the Trump Administration’s ban on “non-essential” travel across U.S. land borders (and ferry travel) with Mexico and Canada through May 20, according to a set of notices to be published in the Federal Register. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also published a notice extending the travel restrictions under its authority.
The ban on non-essential travel across the northern and southern borders began on March 21 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak; it was originally scheduled to expire at 11:59 EDT on April 20. The policy may again be reviewed for possible extension in late May if the COVID emergency remains ongoing.
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
The companion CDC notice implementing border travel restrictions states that those with valid U.S. travel documents as well as business visitors under the Visa Waiver Program are to be exempt from the restrictions. However, the Administration has also asserted in communications that trade and business travel will be subject to additional screening, and in practice, there has been inconsistent treatment of business travelers since March 21.
What this Means for Employers and Foreign Nationals
Under existing guidance, U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident, and foreign national business travel should continue across the Canadian and Mexican land borders for the duration of the border restrictions. However, because CBP officers have wide discretion to inspect entrants, foreign nationals should expect detailed questioning about their employment or business activities in the United States.