As the number of people worldwide who are infected with the COVID-19 Coronavirus increases, it is an increasingly common concern that a Canadian immigration application could be refused because of this exposure. The good news is that previous exposure to the virus will not in itself jeopardize an application to enter Canada.
There are two general grounds on which an application to enter or move to Canada can be refused on medical grounds – this is referred to as “medical inadmissibility” in Canada’s immigration policy.
The first category is whether the person’s health condition poses a danger to public health or safety. The second category is whether a person’s health condition is expected to impose an “excessive demand” on Canada’s health or social services.
Based on these criteria, the question arises of whether exposure to the COVID-19 Coronavirus can lead to medical inadmissibility to Canada in either of these two categories.
To answer this question it is important to know that Canada determines whether a person is medically inadmissible through immigration medical examinations (IMEs). These examinations are conducted by doctors – called panel physicians - all around the world who are approved by the Canadian government to carry out medical assessments. These doctors conduct IMEs and assess health conditions to assist Canada to determine whether someone should be refused on medical grounds.
Not everyone needs a medical examination prior to coming to Canada. While everyone applying for Canadian permanent residence requires a medical examination, only some people entering as visitors, temporary workers or students require IMEs.
The broadest category of temporary residents who need to take an IME are people who are coming to work in Canada in areas that place them in close regular contact with people who are vulnerable to disease. These areas of work include teachers, health care workers, and nursery school workers.
The other broad category of people coming temporarily to Canada who need IMEs are people who want to stay in Canada for more than six months who have lived for six months or more in a country on a list found here:
For which diseases does Canada conduct tests on an immigration medical examination (IME)? Some tests are standard and are administered to everyone, such as HIV tests or chest examinations to determine the presence of tuberculosis in the lungs. Urine and blood tests are taken to determine the presence of liver or kidney disease or syphilis. Other tests depend on the person’s reported health history from their answers on immigration application forms. Medical reports from a person’s treating specialist may be required.
Currently, panel physicians are not testing people for COVID-19 or its antibodies on immigration medical tests. Therefore, a history of infection with coronavirus will not be detected in an immigration medical examination unless there is evidence of damage in the lungs, for example.
However, immigration application forms for permanent residence ask this question:
· Have you, or, if you are the principal applicant, any of your family members listed in your application for permanent residence in Canada ever had any serious disease or physical or mental disorder?
For temporary residence, application forms ask this question:
- Do you have any physical or mental disorder that would require social and/or health services, other than medication during your stay in Canada?
Based these questions, a history of having been diagnosed with COVID-19 will not need to be disclosed on a temporary residence application. This was confirmed recently by a response to a question posed to Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), which stated:
“Currently, foreign nationals who are making applications to IRCC are not required to disclose any conditions and circumstances experienced in relation to COVID-19 in their application. However, if there are any changes to these requirements, our application forms and guides will be updated.”
While this response would seem to be broad enough to cover responses on applications for permanent residence, we believe that the wording of the question on those forms does require disclosure of having been diagnosed with COVID-19. It is considered a “serious disease” by the Canada Public Health Agency.
And while we believe that temporary residence application forms do not require disclosure of a history of COVID-19, it is necessary to disclose that history upon arrival to Canada. As stated in an emailed response from IRCC:
“Once the foreign national arrives in Canada, any information such as previously being tested for COVID-19, having experienced the characteristic symptoms, having had the disease, and having been in close physical contact with anyone infected in the past 2 weeks must be disclosed to the CBSA as they will make the final determination on entry into Canada.”
Once disclosed, in our opinion the risk of refusal is higher for temporary entry than for permanent residence. However this risk of refusal will likely be highest where there is no realistic plan to quarantine for 14 days.
Again, the test for refusal on medical grounds in Canada’s immigration law asks:
- Whether the health condition is expected to impose an excessive demand on health or social services (measured over a 5 year period)?
- Whether the health condition poses a risk to public health or safety?
There is no medical evidence currently indicating that a history of having COVID raises a risk of re-infection. COVID is not a chronic, long-term disease. While COVID-19 symptoms range from very mild to fatal, they appear relatively quickly, within a 14 day period, and resolve one way or another relatively quickly. Therefore, being refused on the basis of posing an excessive demand on Canada’s health and social services is unlikely.
It is much more likely that a refusal would be based on a risk to public health and safety, given the highly contagious nature of COVID-19 in the short term. However, this refusal risk would only arise in the short term, likely only in applications for temporary entry. Given that Canada imposes a strict 14-day quarantine requirement for everyone entering Canada in order to mitigate the risk of transmission publicly, however, it is unlikely that this ground of inadmissibility would be used. It is more likely that a person would be denied temporary entry for failing to have a suitable self-quarantine plan.
- Panel physicians are not testing for COVID-19 on immigration medical examinations,
- While an application for a temporary visa does not require disclosure of a history of COVID-19, it is recommended that applicants for permanent residence disclose their COVID diagnosis on permanent residence application forms,
- All people seeking to entry Canada should disclose a history of having been diagnosed with COVID-19 at the border,
- While refusal of entry based on having had COVID-19 is unlikely, it is very important that upon entering Canada a person is prepared with a detailed plan of how they will quarantine for 14 days. The highest risk of refusal results from not having such a plan.