Published on: Jul 24, 2020
Despite the importance of immigration to Canada's economic recovery, the government appears to be taking a cautious approach to fully restoring normal travel. However, there are some signs that restrictions are easing as the government identifies what can and cannot be achieved safely. For example, travel restrictions have so far prevented all but essential workers from flying into Canada. However, more categories of traveler are gradually being added to the list of those who will be permitted to enter. A new announcement has revealed that foreign representatives will now be permitted to enter the country, signaling a commitment to reopening ties of trade and diplomacy.
In some cases, entering Canada hasn't been the obstacle for people needing to navigate the Canadian immigration system. Applicants for temporary residence, such as international students, temporary workers or visitors, have previously been unable to obtain the biometric information they need to submit their applications because the centres where they would normally do this have been closed. Potential health concerns mean that obtaining this information has been challenging; previously, the requirement was waived for applicants who couldn't get the necessary biometric data. These applicants received an implied residency status until they could obtain the data. In recognition of the uncertainty this created, and perhaps recognizing that difficulties would continue, the government has now scrapped the requirement for biometric data completely, along with the biometric fee. When it will be restored is currently unclear. These requirements currently apply only to applicants who are currently in Canada; applicants outside the country must still submit biometric data.
In addition to changes to biometric data requirements, some types of temporary residence are seeing even more significant changes. One example is the study permit for international students. Many Canadian universities or other institutions are now offering online instruction. While useful for reducing the risk of infection, this can cause problems for international students, since the option to take classes online means that even those students whose permits were issued before the March 18 cutoff might still be refused entry because their visit to Canada is no longer essential. New procedures will create a two-stage application process that will allow some students to take courses online while still being eligible for a permit which would allow them to remain in Canada.
These changes to travel and immigration procedures represent an ongoing process of adaptation to the demands of the Covid-19 pandemic. More and more changes to immigration procedures and requirements are likely to come over the coming months as the federal government attempts to balance its commitment to restoring normal levels of travel and immigration with the need to keep travelers and Canadian communities safe.
One of the most significant changes in the Canadian immigration landscape has been the resumption of invitations to apply (ITAs) to applicants forming part of the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP). Although the government has been issuing ITAs to applicants in several other Express Entry categories, the reopening of the FSWP is nonetheless a significant step. The FSWP is by far the largest program inviting new applications for permanent residency; although there are four Express Entry programs, the FSWP accounts for nearly half the total ITAs issued each year. The resumption of FSWP invitations is a strong indicator that the government foresees a future in which applicants for the program, who are mostly located outside Canada, will once again be able to travel freely to the country.
On March 21, the United States and Canada jointly decided to close the borders between the two nations to most travel as a way of limiting the possible spread of Covid 19. All non-essential travel was to be prohibited, limiting border crossings to the essential goods and services that play such an important role in the economies of both Canada and the US. US President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed to review the closures every 30 days, intending to reopen the borders when the risk of infection was reduced. However, as the United States struggles to contain the pandemic, with 3.5 million known infections and over 130,000 deaths, the time is clearly not right to reopen the borders. As a result, the closure has been extended for another 30 days; the next review will take place on 21 August.
In related news, the Express Entry year-end report for 2019 revealed that the number of skilled workers coming from the US to Canada had increased significantly during the period from 2017 to 2019, with the overall number growing by 75 percent, a disproportionate amount compared to other countries.
As the Covid-19 pandemic progresses, more and more changes to Canadian immigration and travel procedures are inevitable. Keeping up with these changes will require patience and attention as Canada's government works its way incrementally to a new normal.