The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on Canada’s immigration system.
Immigrants themselves have been affected by numerous disruptions, whether its difficulties accessing language testing, credentialing services, biometrics, or other government services.
Immigration professionals have also been working around the clock to adjust to all the policy and programming changes impacting Canadian immigration.
The good news is that we should see things continue to improve in the second half of 2020, and hopefully normalize by 2021.
Perhaps the biggest reason we should all remain optimistic is that we continue to receive positive messages and signals from the federal government and Canada’s immigration minister.
The federal government has many flexible policies in place right now to help immigration candidates. For example, they are giving candidates more time to submit their documentation, and are not refusing anyone if they are unable to submit a complete application due to COVID-19 interruptions.
Immigration minister Marco Mendicino has consistently stated throughout the pandemic that Canada is just as committed as ever to welcoming immigrants to support its economy.
With that in mind, here are some of the major issues we should look out for in the remaining six months of 2020.
The biggest issue on everyone’s mind is when Canada will lift its travel restrictions with the U.S. and the rest of the world.
Whether you are Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, minister Mendicino, or another senior leader, the answer is: no one really knows.
The answer to this question ultimately depends on how successful Canada and other countries will be in containing COVID-19.
It is perhaps safe to say that the sooner the pandemic is under control, the sooner Canada can begin to exempt more individuals and then eventually lift the restrictions altogether.
Another major question mark is whether Canada will accommodate international students in time for the fall 2020 semester.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has said it will process study permits to the best of its ability, but under current travel rules, international students who did not have a valid study permit prior to March 18 are unable to come to Canada.
Hence, it seems likely that later this summer, Canada will exempt new study permit holders who wish to begin their studies in Canada by September.
Federal Skilled Workers Program
The Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) is the main pathway for Express Entry candidates to obtain permanent residence. Since the start of the pandemic, however, Express Entry draws have only focused on Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) and Canadian Experience Class (CEC) candidates. IRCC’s rationale is it wants to issue invitations to apply (ITA) to candidates within Canada, since they are less likely to experience coronavirus disruptions than candidates overseas.
It is important to remember, though, that some of the CEC and PNP candidates now receiving ITAs are also overseas. Moreover, it is reasonable to expect that by the time that successful candidates submit their permanent residence applications and IRCC processes them, we will be in 2021. At that point, hopefully, Canada’s border rules will have been eased.
Therefore, a strong argument can be made in favour of IRCC including FSWP candidates in Express Entry draws right now. Even if one is not convinced by this argument, remember, again, that some CEC and PNP candidates are currently abroad, so why should FSWP and Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP) candidates—some of whom are actually currently in Canada—be excluded?
A common question right now is whether IRCC will renew the Open Work Permit Pilot before it expires on July 31.
The pilot gives an open work permit to spouses and partners of Canadian citizens and permanent residents who are waiting for their spousal sponsorship application to be processed.
Given how beneficial this pilot is to Canadian families and the economy, we should expect it to be renewed.
Another major question mark is with respect to the Parents and Grandparents Program (PGP). It has been delayed due to IRCC reviewing how to improve it, and then the onset of COVID-19.
IRCC has stated it is committed to announcing details about the program’s launch later in 2020.
One obstacle, which minister Mendicino has noted, is that parents and grandparents are more vulnerable to COVID-19. Hence, IRCC is trying to identify how it can welcome such individuals to Canada in a manner that protects their health.
Immigration Levels Plan 2021-2023
Aside from any forthcoming announcements on travel restrictions and when IRCC will invite FSWP candidates again, the third biggest story in the next six months will be minister Mendicino’s 2021-2023 Immigration Levels Plan announcement.
This will be the most anticipated announcement since the government tabled their immigration plan in 2017—back then, stakeholders wanted to know if Canada would commit to significantly higher immigration levels and whether it would re-introduce a multi-year plan (prior to 2017, plans were announced one year at a time).
By November 1st, Mendicino will tell us the extent to which COVID-19 will impact Canada’s short- and medium-term immigration goals. We all know immigration is critical to Canada’s economy and society, but at the same time, COVID-19 has created much uncertainty.
Ultimately, COVID-19 has not impacted Canada’s need for immigration, so there is a strong chance immigration levels will remain high in 2021 and beyond.
Kareem El-Assal is the Director of Policy & Digital Strategy at CanadaVisa.
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