Coronavirus not stopping flow of U.S.-Canada workers



Adam Behsudi | POLITICO


U.S.-Canada relations may have flared in recent days over access to medical supplies, but both countries are readily exchanging health care and other workers across the border every day — for now.

CBP on the case: Border checkpoints that normally process hundreds of thousands of travelers a week have seen volumes plummet amid the pandemic, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection seems to be doing what it can to ease the process for the remaining in-flow of some Canadian workers.

Rosanna Berardi, managing partner at Berardi Immigration Law in Buffalo, N.Y., said CBP reached out to a major hospital she represents in the city to get the names and positions of the 60-plus employees who commute from Canada, seemingly to make it easier for them to cross.

Berardi and Greg Boos, an immigration attorney in Bellingham, Wash., say CBP is processing applications for visas under NAFTA, namely TN and L-1 visas, as it normally would, with no requirement that they come to the U.S. for “essential” reasons.

“I think they’re getting the message obviously from the administration, ‘Let’s try to keep this going, but at a tempered pace,’” Berardi said.

Concerns over protectionism: There are fears that future tension over medical supplies or any other trade issues could imperil what has been an overall smooth process for workers crossing the border. After the U.S. asked 3M to stop exporting face masks to Canada, there was talk of retaliation.

“There were calls to not allow workers,” said Dan Ujczo, an international trade lawyer who chairs the cross-border practice for the law firm Dickinson Wright. “That may be an area where we see issues down the road, where unfortunately we move into that protectionism where movement of people will become a tool.”


Canada’s Border Services Agency reported Tuesday that the volume of travelers coming through land ports from the U.S. dropped by 87 percent between March 30 and April 5 compared to the same period in 2019. The decline was even steeper at airports in Canada, which reported a 96 percent drop in travelers from the U.S. Truck traffic from the U.S. dropped by 29 percent in the same period.

On April 5, commercial traffic was down 24 percent compared with April 7, 2019, which CBSA characterized as “strong.” “Importantly, we have no indication of issues with supply chains for essential goods coming to Canada, including food and medical supplies,” the agency said in a statement.


The two-decade-old Strategic National Stockpile is under great pressure as governors scramble for much-needed face masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment for health care workers on the front lines of fighting the coronavirus pandemic. But the SNS alone was never intended to meet a massive demand from 50 states for medical gear, its former director said.

“The Strategic National Stockpile is great as a fallback” that can be tapped after private-sector supplies and state and local government supplies are exhausted, said Greg Burel, who is now president and principal consultant at Hamilton Grace, a consulting firm focused on preparedness and response. “From what I’ve been seeing, and you’ve probably seen the same thing, it seems like almost from Day One, everybody’s turned and looked at the SNS.”


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