IRCC seeks to modernize as pandemic continues

Published on: Jun 20, 2020 | Tags: Canada Immigration, COVID-19

The global Covid-19 pandemic has affected every area of life, and immigration is no exception. Travel restrictions, office closures and processing delays have posed challenges for the government and would-be immigrants alike. However, the government is planning significant improvements to the application system in anticipation of an increase in new applicants as the danger decreases.

Coronavirus restrictions

In response to the global spread of Covid-19, the Canadian government has imposed significant restrictions on travel to Canada. One major change has been the closure of the land border with the United States. Although truck drivers and others involved in essential services may still cross, most travel between the two countries has been ended. On June 16, the US and Canada jointly announced that the restrictions would continue in place until July 21 at the earliest. Other travel restrictions include a two-week quarantine for all those flying into Canada; from June 16, airlines will also administer temperature checks to identify passengers who may be showing symptoms.

Plans for the future

Although many travel restrictions remain in place, the government is nonetheless preparing for immigration numbers to return to, or even exceed, their previous high levels. In some cases, this means relaxing some of the requirements for supporting information in cases where applicants are unable to get the necessary documents. As visa application centres around the world begin to reopen, these applicants may now be able to get the biometric information they need, rendering some of these changes unnecessary.

Other improvements for applicants include the gradually-increasing number of test dates available for the IELTS and CELPIP. Although not all testing locations are open yet, particularly in dense urban centres like Toronto or New York, many more centres are scheduled to reopen in the coming weeks and months.

Immigration outlook

Perhaps the most important sign that the government expects an immigration boost is that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is preparing for one. A recently-published government bid solicitation invites companies to propose bids for a major overhaul of the immigration application system. The proposed changes would involves planning for a significant increase in application processing capacity. New procedures and digital tools would make it possible to complete applications while observing social distancing rules, while automated processes would free IRCC employees to focus their attention on the more complex aspects of application processing. With all of these changes would come an increased focus on digital security, a particularly important consideration for an increasingly automated process.

All of these changes are some distance in the future, but they give an idea of what IRCC is expecting once travel resumes. 2019 saw record numbers of new permanent residents, and if Canada intends to meet immigration minister Marco Mendicino's goal of welcoming more than a million new permanent residents by the end of 2022, application numbers will have to increase rapidly to make up for lost time.

Despite the temporary slowdown in new arrivals, the evidence suggests that the pool of potential applicants is still there. Structural factors that attracted immigrants to Canada will remain once the pandemic is over, as will Canada's ageing population and labour demands. Indeed, the pandemic has made it clear how much some sectors of the Canadian economy depend on immigrant workers, either in the form of temporary workers or permanent residents.

This is particularly true not only in the food and agriculture sector, but also in healthcare. Recent responses to high demand for workers in health care have included Quebec streamlining the application process for temporary work permits in health care occupations. A recently-proposed change, if approved by the federal government, would also see asylum seekers working in the health care field become eligible for permanent residence.

Immigration outlook remains strong

These changes and more are powerful testimony of the importance of immigration not only in Canada's economy but also in its national culture, as well as to the government's efforts to maintain necessary levels of immigration. Updating IRCC's permanent residency application process is an important step in creating an immigration system that will allow applications to proceed quickly and safely in a post-lockdown world. The fact that IRCC is undertaking this project at the moment sends an important message that Covid-19 has delayed, but not changed, the nation's immigration policy goals.