A Year of Change – How COVID impacted Canadian Immigration
by: Heather Bell
On March 18th of last year, when Canada announced it would close its border in response to the pandemic, our immigration team went from business as usual to frantic calls to clients impacted by the pending closure. Uncertainty set in as we watched Canadian visa offices close overnight, companies move staff to remote work and families scrambling to find flights back to Canada.
Fast forward a year and our team has juggled various policy updates, changes to programs, concerned clients and processing delays. The border remains closed to most travelers, minus a growing list of exemptions. New quarantine rules are in place. And processing offices, both here and abroad, are working at a limited capacity (if any) due to the country specific COVID rules, while juggling growing number of applications.
It’s been a bumpy ride for Canadians, foreign nationals and both the private and public sectors, as we all do our best to decipher the latest changes and rules impacting our ability to travel and/or stay in Canada.
Traveling to Canada
At first, Canada’s border closure meant only Canadians, their immediate family members and essential workers could travel to Canada. Non-discretionary trips were allowed, but this was and continues to be everchanging and open for interpretation. For the latest list of exemptions to the travel restriction, visit the Government travel restriction exemption page.
Currently, for those that can travel and are flying to Canada, they must fly directly to one of four airports- Montreal, Toronto, Calgary or Vancouver – with most travelers requiring the following completed:
- submit a 14-days Quarantine Plan before arrival by using ArriveCAN;
- get a pre-entry negative COVID test result;
- reserve a 3 night stay at a government designated hotel; and
- register in advance for a COVID test upon arrival, to be completed at the airport
Travelers arriving by car are currently exempt from the mandatory hotel stay.
For more information, visit the Government’s requirement checklists for flying and driving to Canada.
Citizenship applications have seen a major interruption. In March 2020, all citizenship tests, interviews and oaths were canceled.
Canada continues to process applications, but we are seeing long processing times. Good news is IRCC has started to pick up the pace with citizenship tests being conducted online and oath ceremonies conducted by video.
While Canada allows applicants to request urgent processing, they will only consider special cases. For permanent residents in Canada who qualify for citizenship or have an application in process, we strongly recommend moving ahead with your permanent resident card renewal if it’s expiring in the next nine months. While you can be in Canada with an expired PR card, an expired card can make travel difficult for when the borders re-open.
Students, Temporary Workers and Permanent Residents
The government has taken many steps over the year to address the challenges and interruptions to students, temporary workers and approved permanent residents who were left in limbo at the beginning of the pandemic. Steps include:
- allowing online study to count towards their post-graduation work permit (PGWP);
- allowing international students to complete 100% of their program online, up to December 2021, and still qualify for the PGWP; and
- allowing immediate family members to travel with the student.
– For workers:
- priority processing for essential service workers in agriculture, agri-food, health care and film and TV;
- allowing foreign workers who are changing employers to request the ability to temporarily work with the new employer until their work permit application is processed;
- allowing eligible visitors in Canada to apply for a work permit from within Canada;
- allowing certain out-of-status individuals to submit a restoration of their status beyond the initial 90 days period until August 31, 2021 and resume work while their restoration in process; and
- re-opening the International Experience Canada program to foreign nationals with a job offer.
– For Permanent Residents:
- extensions on deadlines to submit required documents that are difficult to obtain due to COVID closures;
- allowing incomplete applications caused by COVID-19 delay to be submitted and held for 90 days; and
- giving approved in-Canada permanent residents their confirmation of permanent residency via email, without having to land at the border or book a landing appointment.
One of our key learnings from the past year is to be comfortable with uncertainty. We can no longer predict how applications will be processed and for how long it will take to get a decision. While we continue to be challenged with sudden changes to programs and policy updates, we are confident Canada will continue to prioritize Canadian immigration as they look to fill their immigration targets, despite the setbacks we’ve faced this year.
Should you have more questions about Canadian immigration and the COVID’s impact on programs and processing, don’t hesitate to contact our team.