Published on: Aug 09, 2020
The global Covid-19 pandemic has affected immigration to Canada in several different ways. Not only has it made travel to and from Canada more challenging, it has also made it more difficult for would-be immigrants to apply for visas or permanent residence status, both because of a lack of in-person appointments and also because it has become more difficult to obtain some necessary documents. As the pandemic progresses and the Canadian government's response to it evolves, new developments in travel and immigration are changing the landscape still further.
On March 18, in response to spreading cases of Covid-19 worldwide, the Canadian government imposed restrictions on travelers flying into Canada. These were originally intended only to June 30; however, the government extended them until the end of July. As July came to a close, the persistence of the disease worldwide led the government once again to extend the travel restrictions. These will be reviewed at the end of August to determine whether they should be changed.
At present, the travel restrictions limit entry into Canada to citizens, permanent residents, some people who have been approved for permanent residence, their immediate relatives, and a number of other exempt categories, including some international students and some types of temporary foreign worker. In these cases, the government is attempting to balance economic needs -- such as the needs of temporary workers who have already arranged jobs and cannot change their plans -- with public health needs. With a steadily declining number of cases in Canada, the risk of a second outbreak is an ever-present concern.
Despite the travel restrictions currently in force, Canada's immigration system has continued to function, albeit with some limitations. Express Entry draws have continued throughout the entire lockdown period, although until relatively recently they were focusing mainly on categories of immigrant likely to already be in Canada.
As the pandemic has progressed however, invitations to apply in all categories have begun to resume. Not only have Express Entry draws returned to including all categories of potential applicant instead of focusing exclusively on Canadian Experience candidates. However, the coronavirus has put additional challenges in the paths of some of these applicants. Some small changes to immigration procedures are making it easier to apply for permanent residence programs.
One example of this involves language test documents. Immigration pilot programs have played an important role in the development of Canada's immigration strategy. These programs help the government channel new permanent residence applicants to industries or regions that need more new permanent residents. The Atlantic Immigration Pilot helps encourage immigration to Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, while the Rural Northern Immigration Pilot does the same for smaller communities in the north of the country. Finally, the Agri-Food Pilot and the Startup Visa Program aim to encourage workers and entrepreneurs in industries critical to Canada's economy. Applicants to these programs need to submit evidence of language proficiency, which until recently took the form of original copies of language tests. To make application easier, IRCC has clarified that duplicate versions of the test results will now be accepted.
Another area where the government is moving to deal with the difficulties posed by coronavirus is education. The shift from in-person to online teaching affects many overseas students, including students enrolled at Canadian universities who will be continuing their studies over the internet. Many of these students may even be outside Canada for some of this period, since travel restrictions and closed universities prevent them returning. For these students, IRCC has now ruled that time spent learning online from a Canadian institution will count toward the time required for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP), even if the study happened before the PGWP application was submitted. Students will still need to complete at least half of their study in Canada to qualify, but this new rule will make it easier for students to work in Canada after graduation. Together with relaxed rules about applying for study permits, the change recognizes the unique challenges facing foreign students who intend to study and possibly work in Canada.
Another sign that travel and immigration services are gradually returning to normal comes in the form of an announcement that mail-in passport applications are now reopening. This is only a partial reopening: only people with an "urgent need" or who intend to travel within 30 days are advised to use this service, but it does signal a gradual move toward making passport services available once again.
The global Covid-19 pandemic, with its significant impact both on travel and on office working, has had an unprecedented effect on immigration systems worldwide. As Canada's system adapts to the challenges of the crisis, look for more minor changes like these that will help travellers and potential applicants navigate the obstacles.