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Canada’s immigration response to war in Ukraine

Tuesday, April 05, 2022 @ 1:25 PM | By Sharaf Sultan


Sharaf Sultan %>
Sharaf Sultan
In 2012, Canada was the first western nation to recognize the independence of Ukraine. The relationship between the countries has remained close ever since. Ukrainian Canadians are our nation’s 11th largest ethnic group, and Canada is home to the third-largest population of Ukrainians around the world, behind only Russia and Ukraine itself.

It is perhaps then no surprise that over 80 per cent of Canadians reportedly support national efforts to aid Ukraine in protecting its borders from invasion by Russia, which commenced on Feb. 24. Canada has committed $145 million in humanitarian aid to the country and has extended Operation UNIFIER, its military training and capacity-building mission, to the year 2025. Economic and trade sanctions have also formed part of Canada’s response to the Russian invasion. The newly enacted Special Economic Measures Act (Russia) Regulations restrict the financial and energy sectors, impose asset freezes and dealings bans, bar specified goods and services and place broad prohibitions on ships associated with Russia or Russian companies from docking in or passing through Canada.

For the Canadian immigration and labour/employment bar, a notable element of Canada’s response to the war in Ukraine is the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET). Announced on March 3, CUAET aims to facilitate the quick and simple entry of Ukrainian nationals and their families into Canada while the conflict continues. It also includes streamlined paths to achieve work and study status in Canada for the duration of the visitor visas issued under the program.

CUAET applications prioritized, exempt from COVID-19 entry requirements

The CUAET offers free visitor visas to Ukrainian nationals and their immediate family members fleeing Ukraine (including spouses, common law partners, dependent children and stepchildren and dependents of dependents). These visas are renewable every three years and are valid for up to 10 years. Applications can come from Ukrainians who have already fled the country, including those already in Canada.

Applicants under the CUAET are exempt from the current entry requirements for those not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Ukrainian nationality or a family relationship is all that is necessary to benefit from this exemption. This is welcome news for those aware of the challenges posed by the entry requirements, including concerns about a lack of transparency and communication on the status of visa applications and delays associated with outsourced biometrics testing.

CUAET exemptions may fuel dissent over COVID-19 restrictions

The ability of Ukrainian nationals to benefit from vaccination exemptions for entry into Canada may be met with controversy, particularly as CUAET visa holders are authorized to travel outside Canada during the term of their visa.

On March 25, Parliament voted to continue federal vaccination mandates. This issue has been the source of much divisiveness in Parliament and Canadian society as a whole. Some Canadians argue that they have been limited in their ability to work, attend school and travel based on their medical choices since COVID-19 vaccines were approved and became readily available in Canada in 2021. However, it is important to note that public health measures applicable to the unvaccinated, including quarantine and isolation measures, are expressly applicable to applicants under the CUAET.  

Working in Canada pursuant to the CUAET

Work and study permits for applicants under the CUAET are fee-exempt and expedited while the situation in Ukraine continues to place Ukrainian nationals at risk in their homeland. As is the case with visa applicants, applications can come from both outside and inside Canada. The federal government website provides applicants with step-by-step instructions on how to apply for work visas.

The government has also procedures for obtaining exemptions from medical restrictions that otherwise would prevent permit holders from working and studying in specific settings, many of which are among the sectors hardest hit by COVID-19-related labour shortages. Applicants under the CUAET may be required to submit to medical diagnostic testing within 90 days of arriving in Canada, including chest X-rays and blood. They may then later request the removal of medical restrictions on work and study situations that bring applicants into close contact with people, including:

  • workers in health-care settings;
  • clinical laboratory workers;
  • patient attendants in nursing and geriatric homes;
  • medical students admitted to Canada to attend university;
  • medical electives and physicians on short-term locums;
  • workers in primary or secondary school settings or workers in childcare settings;
  • domestics;
  • workers who give in-home care to children, the elderly and people with disabilities;
  • day nursery employees; and
  • other similar jobs.

Long-term implications

Canada prides itself on being a nation that is welcoming to people of all nationalities and cultures, particularly in times of crisis. The government’s reaction to the situation Ukrainian nationals and their families are facing is an expression of this aspect of the national identity.

Ukrainians entering and remaining in Canada under the CUAET are likely to form just a small contingent of newcomers to the country in 2022. Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Canada had already announced ambitious immigration targets for the year and earmarked $85 million to address application backlogs. Whether these backlogs will hamper Canada’s best intentions to help Ukrainians and their families escape the violence remains to be determined.

Some have noted that refugees from war-ravaged nations, including Sudan and Libya, did not receive the benefit of a streamlined application process while violence raged in their home nations. It is unclear whether the CUAET sets a new standard of reduced bureaucratic hurdles to immigration during armed conflicts or is solely based on the long-standing relationship between Canada and Ukraine.

Sharaf Sultan is the principal at Sultan Lawyers and focuses his practice on both workplace and immigration law. He can be reached at ssultan@sultanlawyers.com.

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