Canada: immigration and citizenship during the pandemic

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Aleksandar Stojicevic
MKS, Vancouver, British Columbia

The pandemic has had a far-reaching impact on Canada’s economy as Canadians have come to terms with the impact the closed borders have on our free trade-dependent economy. Nowhere is this more visible than in immigration. How do you have an open immigration policy when your borders are closed and immigrants can’t come from overseas? This is the policy problem that Canada has been struggling with since the pandemic broke out one year ago.

Just a few short months ago, Canada set very ambitious immigration targets to offset the shortfall in immigrants in 2020, when the number landed (approximately 184,000) represented the lowest number since 1998. With Canada in the midst of the second wave of the pandemic – and with our borders subject to even more restrictions than during the first wave – the Canadian government has turned inward, looking to people who were here temporarily to fill immigration targets.

An example of this trend occurred on 13 February with the largest single group of applicants invited to apply for permanent residence in the Express Entry system since the system itself was created in late 2014. This bypassed entirely the ranking score mechanism designed to adjudicate between applicants, rendering it effectively meaningless.

During the pandemic, numerous changes were made to Canadian immigration policy by the federal government that, in retrospect, hinted at what was to come in 2021. Some of the highlights include:

  • For the first time in over 40 years, applicants with visitor status can apply for work or study permits from within Canada – as opposed to having to apply from outside of Canada.
  • Postgraduate work permit holders have been allowed to extend their work permits for an additional 18 months.
  • In recognition of the prevalence of online classes, foreign students whose schools moved to online only formats were able to have online education credited towards postgraduate work permit eligibility.
  • Visitors whose status expired during the pandemic have been allowed to restore their status beyond the normal 90-day window that is allowable, all the way up until August of 2021.
  • Canadian citizenship processing – effectively halted for over a year – has been turned into an online process.
  • ‘Landing’ interviews, a practice whereby admissibility is reviewed one final time in person before an applicant becomes a permanent resident, has effectively been eliminated from our system.

This is not the end of such changes – more are to come. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has hinted to stakeholders like the Canadian Bar Association’s National Immigration Section that more programmes are going to be created to allow for foreign students and foreign workers to apply for permanent residence.

It is hard to imagine that the federal government’s focus on workers or students as our main source of immigrants will end anytime soon. Canada has set a very ambitious target now at 1.2 million immigrants to be processed over the next three years, while at the same time has signalled that our borders will remain closed to most foreigners – including immigrant visa holders – until at least the summer of 2021.

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