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Canada’s flexible immigration system pivots for COVID-19 | Colin Singer

Friday, April 17, 2020 @ 2:18 PM | By Colin Singer

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Colin Singer
Canada’s immigration system remains operational despite the impact of the unprecedented global battle against the spread of COVID-19.

Canada moved to dramatically restrict entry to try and stop the spread of a virus that has killed many thousands of people worldwide. The latest information confirms Canada-U.S. port of entry border restrictions will remain in place until June 30, 2020.

It is a mark of the importance of immigration to Canada that draws for permanent immigration have continued at both federal and provincial level since the Canadian response to COVID-19 was put into action mid-March.

Canada’s system for welcoming temporary workers has also moved swiftly, prioritizing applications for essential foreign workers who are crucial to agriculture and other food-related industries.

This is the policy of governments nationally and provincially viewing COVID-19 as a serious but temporary development in a long-term immigration strategy designed to help boost the Canadian economy and welcome more than a million immigrants between now and 2022.This policy will likely remain in place.But it may undergo periods of adjustment to these global developments.

Entry restrictions are certain to limit planned immigration levels in the short term, meaning Ottawa is unlikely to reach its target of 341,000 new permanent residents in 2020. However, even within the restrictions there remains a clear nod to the importance of both permanent and temporary immigrants to Canada, with exemptions put in place by Ottawa.

Work permit priority occupations

The most immediately important exemption targets seasonal agricultural workers and fish/seafood workers under the temporary foreign worker stream.

The Canadian food supply relies on the return of trained foreign workers particularly from Jamaica and Mexico, during the spring planting season. Canada is prioritizing work permit applications in the following 10 occupations:

  1.  NOC 6331: Butchers, meat cutters and fishmongers: retail and wholesale.
  2.  NOC 7511: Transport truck drivers.
  3.  NOC 8252: Agricultural service contractors, farm supervisors and specialized livestock workers.
  4.  NOC 8431: General farm workers.
  5.  NOC 8432: Nursery and greenhouse workers.
  6.  NOC 8611: Harvesting labourers.
  7.  NOC 9462: Industrial butchers and meat cutters, poultry preparers and related workers.
  8.  NOC 9463: Fish and seafood plant workers.
  9.  NOC 9617: Labourers in food, beverage and associated products processing.
  10.  NOC 9618: Labourers in fish and seafood processing.

All workers are required to complete a health check before boarding a flight, and to isolate for 14 days upon arrival in Canada.

Further exemptions are in place for permanent residents who were approved before March 18 but had not yet travelled to Canada.International students who held a valid study permit or had been approved for a study permit when the travel restrictions took effect on March 18, can also still travel and will be required to quarantine.

Federal and provincial draws since COVID-19

Canada is known around the world for its cutting-edge, flexible and responsive immigration system, from Express Entry at the federal level through to its many provincial programs. The system has already shown how quickly it can respond to crises such as COVID-19.

Both Express Entry draws that have taken place since the COVID-19 restrictions were imposed have been program-specific, aimed at provincial nominees and Canadian Experience Class candidates respectively. These are candidates more likely to already be in Canada.

Since the two draws, which took place on March 20 and March 23 respectively, Canada’s immigration authorities have issued no further invitations from the Express Entry Pool. This indicates officials are taking stock of the current situation and the impact of the restrictions.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is evaluating how this health risk develops before deciding on a strategy for continued Express Entry draws during the COVID-19 era. Once Express Entry draws resume at the federal level, Comprehensive Ranking Scores (CRS) will increase significantly, before falling back after initial draws.

On the provincial side, B.C. adjusted its procedure so that it did not issue invites to semi-skilled workers, workers in tourism, hospitality and retail, nor occupations where it had recently approved a high volume of applicants. In doing so, the British Columbia Provincial Nominee Program issued a statement that sums up the national attitude towards immigration, even in a time of crisis.

“Notwithstanding the uncertainty in our current economic situation, B.C. faces a demographic reality that over the next 10 years, we will continue to need new immigrants to help fill the jobs so B.C.’s economy can continue to grow,” the statement said. “Now, it is even more important that we do not lose sight of our long-term objectives and the role that immigration plays to support quality economic growth across all regions of B.C.”

Just as the immigration system has reacted quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities can react rapidly through new policies and operational memorandums when the crisis is brought under control to manage the flow of temporary and permanent immigrants to Canada.

Immigration admissions can be expected to rise substantially, possibly in the third quarter of 2020, as Ottawa could look to make up lost ground with the Canadian economy moving towards a sustained recovery mode.

Federal government financial support

Federal and provincial governments have kicked into action to help citizens and permanent residents who were employed and impacted by the COVID-19 response.

Measures include the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), providing $2,000 per months to workers who have lost their income due to COVID-19. Employment Insurance is also available to those who have lost their job through no fault of their own. Furthermore, the Canada Child Benefit has been increased, the income tax filing deadline delayed and banks have committed to helping those with mortgages, with many offering payment deferrals of up to six months.

Small businesses also have government backing, with an unprecedented 75 per cent wage subsidy for qualifying businesses for up to three months, retroactive to March 15. The move is designed to help businesses keep and return workers to the payroll instead of laying them off.

Meeting residency requirements

Permanent residents must meet ongoing physical presence requirements of residing in Canada for two years in every five years. Those who cannot return to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic period will be required to show compelling circumstances preventing compliance during the entire five-year period.

Temporary residents unable to depart

Foreign nationals who are in Canada with temporary resident status that may soon expire must apply for an extension of status. They must continue to meet all requirements and pay the required processing fees to access services. Those who have already applied for an extension of status will benefit from implied status and may remain in Canada until a decision is made in their application.

Where temporary residence status has expired, foreign nationals may apply for a restoration of status where conditions are met.

Immigrants can help Canada’s recovery

All of these measures are intended to put the Canadian economy in the best place possible to recover quickly once the COVID-19 pandemic is brought under control. Immigration under permanent and temporary programs will continue to form a central part of that economic recovery. Application for permanent admission to Canada, supported by job offers, are likely to have the strongest chance of success.

Canada and its provinces have a stated commitment to draw on immigration to meet long-term economic growth. Canada will continue to feature robust immigration policies and it will continue to remain an important destination for those wishing to become part of its landscape.

Colin R. Singer is immigration counsel for He can be reached via Twitter: @immigrationca.

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