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Immigration and COVID-19: The U.S. and the rest of 2020 | Colin Singer

Thursday, July 30, 2020 @ 8:35 AM | By Colin Singer

Colin Singer %>
Colin Singer
As we discussed in the first article in this series, Canada is expecting a surge in immigration applications in the rest of 2020.

In the week before COVID-19 restrictions swept the nation in March, Canada Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino presented an immigration levels plan to Parliament calling for more than a million new arrivals between 2020 and 2022, including 341,000 this year. Mendicino has repeatedly said Canada remains committed to welcoming increased immigration numbers in the coming years.

“At its core, immigration is about people coming together to build a stronger country, which is what we’ve seen throughout our history, throughout this pandemic and, I’m confident, what we will see in the future,” Mendicino said earlier in the pandemic.

His deputy, Catrina Tapley, has since admitted the 2020 target is unlikely to be reached, although Canada is preparing for a surge in applications in the second half of the year. A tender document published on an official government website in June said an application surge was expected to put a “tremendous demand” on government resources.

In preparation for the post-pandemic era, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) must consider a range of updates to processes including paper applications, immigration interviews and a computer system overhaul, the document said. Only then will it be ready to cope with the expected increase in applications.

The “urgent” tender request said: “IRCC needs to act quickly to develop (i) updated and new strategies, and (ii) processes and digital systems to cope with the rapid change it is undergoing.”

It added: “When travel restrictions begin to ease, a significant surge of applications and support requirements is anticipated, putting tremendous demand on our global operations and supporting branches.”

What is happening in the U.S.

As Canada has continued to reassure candidates its immigration program will continue post-coronavirus, the U.S., under President Donald Trump, has effectively done the exact opposite.

Trump’s administration recently extended its ban on green cards issued outside the U.S. for the remainder of 2020, also freezing the issuance of H-1B, H-2B, J-1 and L-1 visas in the process. The move is expected to push more foreign talent towards Canada, which will lead to an increase of U.S. tech companies setting up offices here in order to circumnavigate Trump’s immigration policies.

The visas were stopped under the guise of being part of the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but in reality, many believe this was an anti-immigration president forcing through another anti-immigration measure.

H-1B visas are widely used by technology companies to bring in workers and their families, while J-1 visas are for cultural exchanges and L-1 visas for managers and employees of multinational corporations. The H-2B visa limitation is aimed at seasonal workers in non-agriculture areas.

Despite an outcry from businesses, Trump forced through the changes in a major nod to his support base ahead of the November 2020 presidential election. The move to extend the ban to work visas brings thousands of Canadians into the spotlight. More than 8,000 Canadians applied for H-1B visas over the last two years, while others would normally qualify for the L-1 visa as executives crossing the border.

Work and study permits in the rest of 2020

Canada has continued to allow temporary foreign workers to travel to Canada during the COVID-19 crisis, recognizing the vital role they play in food and economic security. IRCC announced an exemption for TFWs on March 26 2020, and officials are prioritizing the admission of candidates with National Occupational Classification (NOC) codes seen as vital to the Canadian economy.

Canada also moved to slash the time it takes for temporary foreign workers to be allowed to start a new job to help employers during the pandemic.

With Trump’s immigration and work visa ban in place, Canada can expect to see a significant uptick in work permit interest in the rest of 2020.

With H-1B visas frozen until the end of 2020, whenever international travel restrictions are removed and the Canada-U.S. border reopened, Canada’s Global Talent Stream and its two-week visa processing could see a significant popularity boost. Meanwhile, international students who held a valid study permit, or had been approved for a study permit, before March 18 can continue to travel to Canada.

Canada has also made a number of concessions concerning distance learning and the Post-Graduation Work Permit to accommodate international students. Whether colleges and universities will return to in-person classes in the fall remains to be seen, with provinces making decisions on an individual basis. Foreign students approved after March 18 are also waiting to see if the travel restriction is lifted to allow them into the country in time for the start of the new academic year.

How quickly can Canada’s immigration system resume?

The resumption of immigration admissions to Canada depends firstly on how soon the federal government will advocate the resumption of international travel. Canada’s immigration system features policies that can seamlessly resume operation at whatever capacity is required. The return of all-program draws through Express Entry is a clear signal IRCC is cautiously heading towards increased immigration levels.

Officials will be watching Canada’s economic data closely, including the unemployment rate, to see how quickly the country can bounce back from the adverse impact of the pandemic. If the bounce back is successful, Canada could resume welcoming increased numbers of immigrants in the second half of 2020. However, as officials have already said, it is unlikely the pre-pandemic target of 341,000 newcomers will be reached for this year.

This is the second in a two-part series. Read part one: Immigration and COVID-19: What to expect for the rest of 2020.

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

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