How Canada responds to COVID-19’s challenges for foreigners entering Canada

COVID-19 related measures are shaping the future of Canadian immigration.

The Canadian border has been closed for a year to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and it is unknown when it will reopen, leaving Canada’s immigration in a significant decline. According to the report Canadian immigration interrupted: a look ahead into 2021, released by RBC Economics this past February, only 184,000 new permanent residents landed in 2020 although the target at the beginning of the year was set at 341,000. The same thing happened to temporary immigration including international students and foreign workers with work permits.

Border restrictions remain in effect with significant quarantine requirements making travel to Canada unfeasible for many potential immigrants. In response, Canada has increased its efforts to admit new permanent residents who are already in Canada. On February 13, 2021, Canada invited all of Express Entry candidates who were eligible for the Canadian Experience Class to apply for permanent residency. Approximately 90 per cent of them are already in Canada. The border closure has a few exceptions including admitting immediate or extended family of Canadians or permanent residents, and approved permanent residents who received their Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) before March 18, 2020. This means many new permanent residents will continue to be those who are already in the country.

Besides the border closure, other measures such as social distancing upset operations at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Processing is significantly delayed. Applicants for permanent residency under Canadian Experience Class may face a six-month-lag time. For others, the wait could be significantly longer.

The federal government is trying to support immigrants during the pandemic with a number of measures. For example, international students with study permits issued after March 18, 2020 have not been allowed to enter Canada. To help them, Canada took the unprecedented step of allowing online learning to count toward a post graduation work permit. At first, they could do 50 per cent of their program online. As of February it has been extended to 100 per cent of the course, up until December 31, 2021. And students are still eligible for the post graduation work permit.

More of IRCC’s services have gone digital. Approved permanent residents who are already in Canada can now complete the landing process electronically. Citizenship ceremonies and citizenship tests are also done online. Approved permanent residents outside of Canada can complete their landing when travel restrictions are lifted. IRCC said that they would not have to re-apply if their documents expire while travel restrictions are still in effect.

The pandemic continues to keep immigration into Canada low throughout 2021.

The RBC Economics report states the first half of 2021 will look like the second half of 2020, with approximately 100,000-125,000 new permanent residents. The first month of the year started with nearly 25,000 newcomers landing in Canada. This means to hit the 401,000 target announced last October in Canada’s immigration levels plan 2021-2023, Canada would need to admit about 50,000 new permanent residents per month in the second half of the year. This is unlikely as the number is 14,000 higher than the largest cohort of 2019.

When things return to normal with respect to COVID-19, a more realistic estimate would set the number of new permanent residents in the second half of the year at 150,000-175,000. In that case, Canada would have around 275,000 new permanent residents by year’s end. Source: RBC Economics

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