Published on: Mar 19, 2020
In response to the global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the Canadian government is enacting several new restrictions on travel as well as making changes to some important immigration process. The developing situation will affect temporary workers, employers, people planning to travel to Canada, applicants for permanent residence, and many more. As with anything related to COVID-19, details of these restrictions are changing rapidly, so people affected by them should check regularly for updates to the situation.
On March 18, US President Donald Trump and Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the US-Canada border would close to non-essential travel. The announcement that trade would not be affected comes as a relief to Canadian businesses, since the United States is by far Canada's largest trading partner, accounting for over 70% of its foreign trade. However, many travelers and businesses will still be affected by the restrictions. Visits for purposes such as tourism, shopping, or visiting family will all end, cutting heavily into the 200,000 daily border crossings between the US and Canada.
The closure represents a rapid escalation of Canada's previous border stance. On March 16, Trudeau announced a series of restrictions on international travel that saw most international travel forbidden, with only Canadian citizens and permanent residents, plus a few special categories of traveler, permitted in. Even foreign nationals with a valid Canada visa were excluded by the new border restrictions; normal Canada eta procedures were suspended as part of a strategy to reduce potential sources of infection. However, Trudeau exempted Americans from this exclusion, as well as travelers who had spent the last 14 days in the US. Only two days later, as the American government escalated its own response to COVID-19, this exemption was removed.
Within Canada, the immigration system is also adapting to the demands of the viral pandemic. Facing the prospect of homeworking and staff shortages, the government is cancelling or postponing some immigration processes and extending deadlines on others. As with other aspects of coronavirus policy, these could change quickly, so affected applicants should be sure to check on the current status when making decisions about their applications.
Changes to immigration services include the indefinite cancellation of all citizenship ceremonies and tests. Large gatherings like these could be a potential risk for virus transmission, and will only be resumed when the risk of infection has diminished. Similarly, some appointments, including permanent resident landing and refugee claim appointments, have been cancelled until April 13. Some other in-person functions, such as in-person submissions of refugee claims, are currently still active.
Because of these changes, and because of expected delays for both immigration staff and applicants, some deadlines for applications may be extended. For example, permanent residence applicants who are unable to get all required documents within the 60-day deadline may be able to submit incomplete applications and receive a 90-day deadline extension.
There are other new requirements as well: for instance, Chinese nationals with older medical exams may be required to undergo new ones.
Overseas residents in Canada who find their travel plans disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic may wish to extend their permits or visas. Some parts of this process are likely to be delayed, while others may no longer be possible, so careful attention is required. In general, temporary residents such as students or temporary workers may apply to have their permits extended; those whose permits have expired may apply to renew them.
Because of the anticipated delays, people wishing to extend their residence should begin the process as early as possible. Once an application has been submitted, they may usually remain in Canada even after the original permit has expired, as long as the decision on the application is still pending.
One traditional method of expediting an application for extension is "flagpoling" -- briefly going into the United States and then returning to Canada to file for the extension at the port of entry. Because of the restriction on entry from the United States, however, this tactic is now ineffective.
One area where the government's response to COVID-19 is causing concern among employers is the agricultural sector, where the pandemic has revealed the importance of immigration to farming. Many Canadian farms rely on temporary foreign workers to perform seasonal tasks such as planting and harvesting. Farmers often struggle to find Canadian employees to carry out these time-sensitive tasks; even in years without any travel restrictions, agriculture sector employers often report shortages of candidates. If the travel ban continues, many fear that labour shortages could damage Canada's agricultural sector. A joint Emergency Response Committee is currently assessing methods of dealing with threats to the sector, including labour shortages.