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Immigration and COVID-19: What to expect for rest of 2020 | Colin Singer

Monday, July 20, 2020 @ 8:28 AM | By Colin Singer

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Colin Singer
COVID-19 restrictions have made the first half of 2020 a major challenge for Canada’s immigration programs.

With international travel restricted and the Canada-U.S. border closed since mid-March, permanent resident arrivals initially slowed to a fraction of the number seen earlier in the year, before picking up again in May, with 11,000 newcomers welcomed.

With COVID-19 cases spiking in many U.S. states, current border closures to non-essential travel have been extended to Aug. 21, 2020.

However, the federal government never broke stride with Express Entry draws and the numbers of invitations issued to immigration candidates.

The first half of 2020 saw nearly 50,000 Invitations to Apply (ITAs) issued, exceeding both 2018 and 2019 and representing the second highest total on record for the first six months of a year.

Canada’s federal and provincial governments are carefully trying to find the right balance of reopening economies without causing a second wave of the virus, which has caused restrictions to be reimposed in several parts of the U.S. Canada has fared well in its COVID-19 response, managing to limit its spread where other countries have failed. The great unknown is the impact a second wave of the virus could have, but up to this point, Canada is carefully entering recovery mode. Any recommencement of Canada’s full immigration program can only come after international travel restrictions have been lifted.

So, what could Canada immigration look like in the remainder of 2020?

The current situation

Canada’s federal government imposed sweeping international travel restrictions and closed the border with the U.S. in mid-March as it took drastic measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Citizens, permanent residents, those registered under the Indian Act and protected people can travel to Canada.

Exemptions were quickly put in place for:

  • Certain temporary foreign workers crucial to Canada’s supply chain.
  • Certain international students approved on or before March 18, 2020.
  • New permanent residents approved on or before March 18, 2020.

A further exemption introduced in June saw immediate family members of citizens and permanent residents allowed to travel, provided they are staying in Canada for at least 15 days.

Anyone travelling to Canada must quarantine for 14 days on arrival and be able to present an acceptable quarantine plan to Canada Border Services Agency officers on arrival. The measures meant a reduction in the number of permanent resident admissions to 4,140 in April 2020, compared to 25,930 in February 2020 and 26,900 in April 2019.

How restrictions affected pending immigration applications

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), as well as Canada’s provincial immigration offices including Quebec, are doing everything they can to ensure applications are not refused because of COVID-19 restrictions. This has included granting a number of extensions to deadlines for submitting paperwork and biometrics, which has not been possible in many cases due to the closure of Canada’s network of Visa Application Centres (VACs). These centres are gradually reopening to provide services to permanent and temporary residence applicants.

International students have been told that time spent distance learning due to COVID-19 will not impact their eligibility for the Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP). Time spent studying outside Canada will also not be deducted from the length of any PGWP.

Visitors, study and work permit holders in Canada affected by the COVID-19 pandemic have been given until the end of 2020 to restore their status.

Instead of the usual 90-day window, former workers, students and visitors currently in Canada whose status expired after Jan. 30 will now have until Dec. 31 to apply for restoration.

Express Entry response

At the federal level, through the Express Entry System, Canada has kept up draws every two weeks, issuing upwards of 3,500 ITAs each time, resulting in 50,000 ITAs being issued in the first half of the year.

IRCC officials switched to program-specific draws targeting the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) and the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) candidates, both more likely to already be in the country and therefore not be affected by travel restrictions.

In early July, IRCC conducted the first all-program draw since COVID-19 restrictions were imposed, issuing 3,900 ITAs to candidates from the Federal Skilled Worker and Federal Skilled Trades categories, as well as the CEC and the PNP.

An ITA is the start of the process for the Express Entry system, after which candidates must submit full applications for Canada immigration. IRCC admits that it currently cannot estimate what the processing time will be once that full application is submitted, due to the impact of COVID-19.

As an overall response, Canada’s immigration system has shown its ability to pivot and react during a crisis that has gripped the world.

This is part one of a two-part series.

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

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