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Canadian International Students Face Uncertainty At Border

Canadian International Students Face Uncertainty At Border

Only Canadian international students returning for non-discretionary or non-optional reasons will be allowed to enter Canada. Who falls into these categories, and who doesn’t, is causing confusion in the international student community. 


Back in March, in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Canada imposed travel restrictions. With few exceptions, anyone attempting to enter Canada for non-essential purposes such as tourism will be turned away. Immigration, Refugee, and Citizenship Canada have previously stated that international students can return, but only if they meet certain conditions. 

Which Canadian international students can return?

You’re exempt from the travel restrictions and are able to enter Canada if you’re traveling for a non-discretionary or non-optional purpose AND

  • you’re an international student who has a valid study permit or
  • you were approved for a study permit on or before March 18, 2020, or
  • you’re coming from the United States

How do I know if my travel to Canada is non-discretionary or non-optional? 

The Customs and Border Security Agency (CBSA) will make the final decision whether you are exempt from Canadian travel restrictions. They will take the following factors into consideration when making their final decision: 

  • You are established, residing, and studying in Canada. If you are established in Canada, your return is non-discretionary
  • You are expected to begin studying upon arrival, after completing your mandatory 14-day quarantine period.
  • Your presence in Canada is necessary for your continued participation in your program of study (such as in laboratories or workshops)
  • Pursuing online studies is not an option for your school or program, or not possible from your home country (for example, due to internet restrictions or bandwidth limitation)
  • Your semester has been canceled or you will begin studying later in the year

What should I show to demonstrate my travel is essential? 

Canadian international students returning to resume their studies should provide a compelling case to show CBSA officers that there travel to Canada is essential. Documents that can support your case that your travel is essential can include:

  1. Your valid student permit or port of entry letter.
  2. Proof that you are established and residing in Canada. This can come in the form of leases, mortgage documents, and utility bills in your name.
  3. A letter from your school that confirms your presence in Canada is required to resume your studies.
  4. If studying online from your home country is not a viable option, providing some kind of proof that you will face obstacles with your studies is advisable.

Before you travel, you can always contact the Border Information Service for more information.

Adam Pinsky

Adam Pinsky has a keen interest in all things immigration and has been working in the industry for 11 years.

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