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Closure of Northern and Southern U.S. Borders for Non-Essential Travel Extended Until May 20, 2020, or Until COVID-19 Coming Into U.S. Has Ceased To Be Serious Public Health Danger

On March 20, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an Interim Final Rule (IFR) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued a concurrent order that together closed both the Northern and Southern borders to all but essential travel.  On April 20, 2020, the CDC extended the order until May 20, 2020 or until “COVID-19 [coming] into the United Sates has ceased to be a serious danger to the public health, whichever is sooner.”

What authority is the government relying on to keep the borders closed?

Both the HHS IFR and the CDC order invoke 42 USC § 265, a public health statute that allows the Surgeon General to suspend entry to the United States of anyone deemed to be a “serious danger of introduce[ing] a communicable disease.” 

The Mexican and the Canadian government agreed to the closures and issued joint statements with the U.S. announcing the initiatives.  

For how long will the borders be closed?

The U.S. closed off the Northern and Southern borders for all but essential travel beginning on March 20, 2020 at midnight. Unless it is extended, the closure will remain in effect until the HHS Secretary determines it is no longer necessary or one year from the publication of the rule, whichever is earlier.

Who is barred from entry under the IFR and CDC Order and who is exempt?

Essential travel permitted under the IFR and CDC order is expansive, and includes: U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the United States, individuals traveling for medical purposes; individuals traveling to attend educational institutions; individuals traveling to work in the United States; individuals traveling for emergency response and public health purposes; individuals engaged in lawful cross-border trade; individuals engaged in official government travel or diplomatic travel; members of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the spouses and children of members of the U.S. Armed Forces, returning to the United States; and individuals engaged in military-related travel or operations. 

Non-essential travel includes individuals traveling for tourism purposes.

We will provide an update as soon as there are any further announcements regarding the continued closure or re-opening of the Northern and Southern borders to both essential and non-essential travel.

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Susan J. Cohen

Member / Founder and Chair Emeritus, Immigration Practice

Susan J. Cohen is Chair of Mintz's Immigration Practice and a nationally recognized Immigration lawyer. She helps corporate clients manage immigration challenges. Susan is an American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) member and she's contributed to state and federal immigration regulations.