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Canada immigration and COVID-19 during 2020: Part one | Colin Singer

Thursday, November 26, 2020 @ 1:49 PM | By Colin Singer

Colin Singer %>
Colin Singer
The coronavirus pandemic has severely disrupted the Canada immigration system since restrictions were first introduced in March 2020. Canada’s federal government reacted by restricting international travel and closing the Canada-U.S. border, with most of the measures taken still in place eight months later and likely to remain into 2021.

COVID-19 policies have severely limited Canada’s ability to welcome new permanent residents, work permit holders and study permit holders. Ottawa had a plan to welcome around 341,000 new immigrants in 2020, a target that will not be met given the likelihood that travel and border restrictions will remain in place into 2021.

The federal government plans to significantly increase immigration levels from 2021 to 2023 to make up for the 2020 shortfall and fuel Canada’s economic recovery. The recent immigration levels plan presented by Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino allows for more than 400,000 new permanent resident arrivals per year over the next three years.

However, there remains significant doubt over when travel and border restrictions will be lifted, given the virus is on the increase across Canada. Recent good news regarding successful vaccine trials has provided hope that the world could begin to return to normality by midway through 2021.

In this two-part series, we look at how Canada immigration has been affected by COVID-19 in 2020.

Which foreign nationals can travel to Canada?

Travel restrictions mean only foreign nationals in a limited number of categories are allowed into Canada. Those who can travel include:

  • Immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents staying in Canada for 15 days or more.
  • Extended family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents staying in Canada for 15 days or more.
  • Persons authorized to travel for compassionate reasons.
  • Other foreign nationals, such as: certain people already approved for permanent residence (more later); certain temporary foreign workers (more later); certain international students (more later); other categories including transiting passengers, certain family members of temporary residents and flight crew.

All travellers must quarantine for 14 days on arrival and present a viable plan for that quarantine to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officer at the border. The plan must include how they intend to transfer from the airport, where they will stay in isolation and how they will access necessities such as food.

Certain groups are exempt from the need to quarantine, such as truck drivers crossing the Canada-U.S. border.

Canada permanent residence

The number of permanent resident arrivals has plummeted in 2020 compared to 2019. In the first nine months the year, 143,465 newcomers arrived, compared to 263,945 in 2019. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is still accepting permanent resident applications, although it can provide no estimated processing times.

Applications from citizens trying to return to Canada, vulnerable people and those performing essential services are being prioritized.

Candidates are required to submit a full application and are advised to wait to apply if they cannot pull together all of the required documents due to COVID-19 restrictions. Some of the documents causing difficulties include police certificates, biometrics, passports and medical exams, and applicants are being given a rolling 90-day extension where their application is held up.

Language tests were initially suspended back in March, although some testing centres have reopened over the last eight months.

Candidates already approved for permanent residence cannot enter Canada unless covered by an exemption to the travel restrictions. Candidates are exempt if:

  • Their permanent residence was confirmed before March 18, 2020.
  • Their permanent residence was confirmed after March 18, 2020, and they are an immediate family member sponsored by a citizen or permanent resident.
  • They are currently living in the U.S. and coming to Canada directly.

Candidates only meet the above exemptions if they are coming to Canada to settle permanently, are able to quarantine for 14 days and, if travelling by air, pass an airline health check.

Asylum seekers working in care homes

Canada announced in August that it will make some asylum seekers who worked in hospitals and care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic eligible for permanent residence. The province of Quebec was particularly affected by a care home staffing crisis during the early stage of the pandemic. Now asylum seekers who stepped in to help are to be rewarded.

Express Entry

Canada has continued to issue Invitations to Apply (ITAs) through the Express Entry system despite the restrictions in place due to the pandemic. Indeed, 2020 has been a record year, with Canada issuing more than 92,000 ITAs to prospective skilled worker immigrants.

Initially, IRCC switched to inviting only Canadian Experience Class and Provincial Nominee Program candidates, considering them more likely to already be in Canada and therefore not subject to travel restrictions. However, after initially resuming in July, all-program draws have become the norm again since the start of September.

Due to the pandemic, candidates receiving an ITA currently have 90 days to submit a full application.

This is the first of a two-part series.

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

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