Family members of temporary foreign workers are not exempt from travel restrictions, but they may still be able to come to Canada.
When we talk about “family members” here, we’re referring to spouses, common-law partners, and dependent children. These family members of permanent residents and citizens are exempt as long as they’re coming for more than 15 days, but this is not the case for the families of temporary residents.
However, coming to Canada for the purpose of “reuniting immediate family members” is allowed. When we’re talking about family members of temporary residents, this does not include temporary visits. You have to be coming either for an essential reason in your own right, as a worker for example, or for the purpose of “establishing residence” with your family member who is in Canada as a temporary resident.
There are two criteria that family members of temporary foreign workers must meet if they want to come to Canada, according to Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)’s program delivery instructions. Family members must meet both of the following criteria:
- They must be specifically exempt from the travel restrictions in their own right, if they are not otherwise exempt they need a written authorization letter, an FRL, to enter Canada.
- Foreign national family members must also be coming for a non-discretionary reason. For those seeking to come to Canada under the family reunification exemption, their non-discretionary reason will be assessed by an IRCC officer when they decide whether or not to issue the FRL. This letter should be sufficient evidence that your travel is non-discretionary when you present it to a border official, who has the final say on who gets to enter the country. If the border officer finds new or conflicting information presented to them, they may use their discretion, the IRCC webpage says.
Family members coming from the U.S. do not need the FRL, but they still have to prove that they are travelling to Canada to establish themselves with the temporary resident.
How IRCC decides who gets an FRL
When IRCC determines who gets an FRL, the first thing they look at is whether the purpose to Canada is non-discretionary.
For family members of temporary residents, that generally means that they want to reunite with their family in Canada, and their length of stay carries some sort of permanency. For example, if their spouse is working in Canada for one year and they want to live with them during that period. If they are coming to work or study, there are separate provisions covering that. Workers must meet the requirements of a Foreign Worker Program, and have a non-optional travel purpose.
The work permit status does not matter for people coming to Canada for the purpose of family reunification. Instead, IRCC looks at what their relationship is to the temporary resident in Canada and whether their purpose of travel is to establish residence, or just for a visit. A visit to see temporary residents in Canada is not considered essential travel.
IRCC says you should not book a flight to Canada until you get your written authorization.
If you’re travelling from any country outside the U.S., in order to board your flight you need:
- a valid visitor visa or eTA;
- a valid passport;
- to tell the airline that you’re exempt from travel restrictions;
- to show the immigration officer that you’re coming for an essential reason, if they find you are travelling for an optional or discretionary reason you will be refused; and
- to have your health checked by airline officials to confirm that you do not have symptoms of COVID-19, such as a fever, a cough, and difficulty breathing.
Airline personnel in your home country will also assess your eligibility to travel. If they send you to Canada, and the border officials find that you were “improperly documented” then they can charge the airline $3,200 CAD in administrative fees.
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