Published on: Oct 15, 2020
The global Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on immigration and travel to Canada. In addition to border closures and travel restrictions, the economic effects of the virus have been pronounced in some industries that employ large numbers of immigrants. However, recent economic news suggests some promising changes in employment for immigrants, while the process of reopening the immigration system and making it easier for some new arrivals to Canada to travel continues.
Statistics Canada's September 2020 Labour Force Survey, released on October 9th, showed continued improvement in levels of employment. Employment figures increased for the fourth straight month, with an increase of 378,000 new jobs. Unemployment remains relatively high compared to the start of the pandemic, but the figures suggest steady improvement as sectors of the economy reopen.
Particularly relevant to immigration is the change in unemployment for immigrants. Immigrants who have been in Canada for more than five years saw an increase of 1.7% in their employment rate, a faster increase than comparable Canadian-born workers.
By contrast, immigrants who have arrived within the past five years saw relatively little change in their employment figures, which were already slightly higher than immigrants present for longer than five years. However, this lack of change masks a more complex economic reality. Recent immigrants are more likely to be employed in sectors such as food, hospitality, and retail, which have suffered significantly from a Covid-related downturn. As more recent hires, they are also more vulnerable to layoffs in times of economic pressure. On the other hand, travel restrictions have also prevented large-scale new immigration, meaning that the group added few new members during the period. The result is that, even in a changing labour market, the overall percentage of recent immigrants in employment remains relatively stable.
Although some sectors have rebounded more quickly than others, the quick recovery in employment rates is a promising sign for the post-Covid labour market.
As the labour market begins to return to normal, the government, while maintaining many travel restrictions, has begun to implement some exceptions for certain categories of traveller.
International students form one such category. With the new academic year beginning, international students faced a number of unique challenges, with some initially finding themselves unable to travel to Canada because the possibility of online classes meant that their travel was not essential. However, starting on October 20th, some of these students will be able to travel to Canada as long as the institution at which they are studying has a coronavirus readiness plan approved by provincial or territorial health authorities.
Like other international travellers, these students will have to comply with a number of health restrictions. They will not be able to travel if they are showing symptoms of Covid-19 and will have to observe a 14-day quarantine period once they arrive in the country. Family members such as spouses or children -- or parents in the case of students younger than 18 -- may also be eligible to enter Canada with the student.
In addition to making it easier for foreign students to travel to the country, the government has also relaxed restrictions on other forms of travel, including family and compassionate journeys. Family members of Canadian citizens or residents, including partners, spouses, children, parents and grandparents, are able to apply for exemption to the travel restrictions from October 8th. They can also apply for limited release from quarantine restrictions.
Similarly, people visiting Canada for compassionate reasons are now able to apply for exemption from travel restrictions and quarantine rules. Compassionate reasons include providing medical support, visiting critically ill loved ones, and attending funerals or end of life ceremonies.
Despite the pandemic, the government's targeted immigration programs continue to develop. October 13th saw the beginning of the expression of interest period for the new Parents and Grandparents Program. This period will run until November 3rd and allow Canadian citizens and permanent residents, as well as individuals with First Nations status, to apply to sponsor their parents or grandparents for permanent residence in Canada. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) intends to process 10,000 applications under this program by the end of 2020.
All of these developments indicate testify to the ongoing development of IRCC's response to the challenges of Covid-19. Although international travel restrictions remain in place, these specific exemptions provide a lifeline for international students, whose contributions are vital to the success of Canada's higher education sector, as well as for family members who have been unable to see their loved ones during the period of lockdown. As the situation develops, there will no doubt be further changes in travel rules and procedures.