Days after Canada’s Immigration Minister, Marco Mendicino announced plans to increase immigration targets in 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced to the world that the Canadian borders would be closed on March 18, as a public safety measure to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Initially, the border was only meant to be closed until June 30, 2020. Although travel restrictions have undergone series of changes, they are still in effect.
Border crossings are down between eighty-eight (88) percent and Ninety-six (96) percent for land and air travel, respectively. The federal government currently has no plan for when and how it will reopen the border.
Up until January 2021, Canada’s immigration levels had taken a huge toll, obviously due to travel restrictions. By the end of 2020, only 184,000 newcomers had arrived in Canada, the lowest level since 1998.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was generally only Canadians, immediate family members, and essential workers, among others who were exempted from travel restrictions who could travel to Canada. All other travels had to be “non-discretionary” or “non-optional”.
IRCC canceled all citizenship ceremonies, tests, and retests. In-person permanent residency landing appointments were canceled for almost a month. Around the world, many Visa Application Centres were shut down, and language tests were canceled, meaning it was very difficult for some to complete the application process for Canadian immigration.
While all these services were suspended, IRCC extended the time limits for immigration applicants to apply. Those who were affected by service closures could ask IRCC for an extra ninety (90) days to complete their applications.
Approved permanent residents were only exempted if they have obtained their Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) before March 18.
With limited exceptions, all travelers to Canada had to complete a mandatory fourteen (14) day quarantine. They would need to come with a plan to get groceries and medicine during their stay, and not put others at risk, especially vulnerable/aged people.
Federal government measures to support immigrants during the COVID-19 pandemic
International students who obtained their study permits prior to March 18 were allowed to come to Canada in the beginning but Canada took the unprecedented step of allowing the online study to count toward a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP).
As of February, international students can do all of their programs online, up until December 31, 2021, and still, be qualified for the PGWP.
On the same day, the immigration minister announced that extended family members could also travel to Canada to visit their loved ones. Also, foreign nationals who wanted to cross the border to care for a loved one or attend the funeral of a loved one were allowed to travel and even break quarantine in certain situations.
The COVID-19 pandemic also forced more of IRCC’s services to go digital. Approved permanent residents can now complete their landing process electronically. Also, Canada now offers both citizenship tests and citizenship ceremonies online.
Canada approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Dec, 9 after new cases had skyrocketed to unprecedented levels that would continue into the new year.
Currently, there are four vaccines approved in Canada, and they are available to anyone who is qualified for them regardless of their citizenship status.
Immigration said to be “key to economic recovery”
Canada has also been increasing its efforts to admitting new permanent residents who are already residing in Canada. On February 13, Canada invited every single immigration candidate who was eligible for the Canadian Experience Class to apply for permanent residence. About ninety (90) percent of the people who are eligible for this program are already staying in Canada.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada maintained that immigration will continue to be a priority. Canada is still facing the demographic challenges that it was before the coronavirus pandemic, an aging labor force, and a declining birth rate. These problems can only be solved by welcoming high levels of immigrants.
Currently, there is no timeline on when the border will re-open and allow foreign nationals and immigrants from abroad to easily travel to Canada.
However, Trudeau has said on multiple occasions that everyone in Canada who wants a vaccine and eligible to get one, will be able to get it by the end of September, or maybe sooner.