Temporary Immigration Measures in Response to COVID-19

Revised on 31 August 2020, 9:40 a.m.
Any substantive changes in this HillNote that have been made since the preceding issue are indicated in bold print.

(Disponible en français : Mise en place de mesures temporaires en matière d’immigration dans le cadre de la COVID-19)

The temporary restrictions on the free movement of people and the broad lockdown imposed to address the COVID-19 pandemic have had several impacts on non-citizens in Canada. While the current measures are temporary, their unintended consequences – such as delays in processing immigration applications – will be felt for some time.

This HillNote provides an overview of the temporary measures the Government of Canada has taken during the COVID-19 pandemic to meet the immediate needs of permanent residents, international students, refugees and asylum claimants, visitors and temporary foreign workers.

1. Permanent Residents

The main impact the COVID-19 measures have had on permanent residents remains longer processing times for their files. For example, all in-person landing appointments for permanent residents have been cancelled. However, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is emailing permanent residence applicants to enable them to obtain a permanent residence card by submitting their confirmation along with a photograph. IRCC has announced that further delays in finalizing applications are to be expected.

Permanent residents whose application was approved on or before 18 March 2020 are still allowed to enter Canada, but must quarantine themselves for 14 days after arriving.

In addition, permanent residents who have applied for Canadian citizenship have been affected by the cancellation of most citizenship events, including citizenship tests, hearings, interviews and in-person citizenship ceremonies. However, IRCC has started to invite some applicants to take part in citizenship ceremonies where applicants take their oath of citizenship by videoconference.

Permanent residents currently abroad who wish to return to Canada must present a valid permanent residence card or travel document to enter the country.

Finally, on 8 June 2020, the federal government announced that foreign nationals who are immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents will be exempt from the prohibition on entry to Canada, provided that they have no symptoms of COVID-19 and that they will be staying with an immediate family member for at least 15 days after their arrival in Canada. Immediate family members wishing to stay in Canada for less than 15 days must comply with the same requirements as other visitors.

2. International Students

The number of international students who choose to study in Canada grows every year. In 2018, more than 721,000 international students held valid study permits. When educational institutions closed their doors and finished the spring session online, IRCC announced that international students would not be penalized. Because many students could no longer leave Canada after borders closed around the world, they had to maintain their legal status by either applying to extend their study permit or obtaining visitor status. As for students in Quebec, the validity period of any Québec Acceptance Certificate (CAQ) expiring on 30 April 2020 was extended by regulation until 31 December 2020.

Only international students who have a valid study permit or were approved for a study permit on or before 18 March 2020 are exempt from the restrictions on travel to Canada.

International students can work off campus for up to 20 hours per week during the school year and full time during scheduled breaks. International students in health-related programs and other essential service sectors were invited to work off campus full time starting in April 2020 and ending on 31 August 2020.

International students who lose their job because of the pandemic are eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, but do not qualify for the Canada Emergency Student Benefit. The Canada Emergency Student Benefit is reserved for individuals in the following categories: Canadian citizens, registered Indians, permanent residents and protected persons recognized as such by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) and IRCC.

Lastly, the criteria for the post-graduation work permit, the gateway to applying for permanent residence, were modified to enable international students, inside or outside of Canada, to complete up to 50% of their program online by 30 April 2021, provided they eventually complete a minimum of 50% of their program of study while in Canada. Students who were scheduled to begin a program of study lasting 8 to 12 months between May and September 2020 will remain eligible for a post-graduation work permit even if they complete their entire program virtually from abroad.

3. Refugees and Asylum Claimants

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on refugees outside the country who were waiting for resettlement to Canada. IRCC has suspended its refugee resettlement programs as a result of travel restrictions. In‑person interviews and refugee protection claimant document renewals for asylum claimants currently in Canada have also been suspended until further notice.

In addition, in response to the crisis, the IRB suspended nearly all in-person hearingsThe resumption of hearings of the Refugee Protection Division began the week of 20 July 2020 in Vancouver, and the week of 3 August 2020 for other IRB offices. These hearings have been adjusted to meet public health requirements, so the claimant and his or her representative, the Minister’s representative and the IRB member are in different rooms at the IRB. The resumption of traditional in-person hearings is scheduled for the week of 14 September. In addition, the IRB will continue to train its members in order to increase the number of hearings held remotely in the coming months.

On 14 August 2020, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship of Canada announced the creation of a pathway to permanent residence for refugee claimants who worked as orderlies, nurses, nurses’ aides, patient services associates, assistant orderlies and home support workers between 13 March and 14 August 2020.

4.Visitors

Some visitors were unable to leave Canada before borders were closed around the world. They are required to maintain their status and health insurance. Applications to extend a stay must be made online. All visitors must clearly state that their stay in Canada is temporary and refrain from working or studying without authorization.

Pursuant to IRCC ministerial instructionsprocessing of applications for temporary residence visas and electronic travel authorizations was suspended since 29 April 2020, except for individuals who are covered by an exemption to the order respecting persons from countries other than the United States and are travelling for a non-optional, non-discretionary purpose. As of 1 July 2020, processing of online applications resumed at reduced capacity. The issuance of a visitor visa does not guarantee entry into Canada as long as there are general restrictions on travellers. Most biometrics collection sites remain closed, although some have reopened, and applications cannot be completed until biometrics have been collected.

On August 24, 2020, it was announced that visitors in Canada with a valid job offer will be able to apply for an employer-specific work permit.

An earlier HillNote discussed the movement of goods and people across Canada’s borders.

5. Temporary Foreign Workers

Some temporary foreign workers were already in Canada when the borders were closed. Most seasonal agricultural workers arrived afterward, being exempt from the restrictions because of the essential nature of their work in Canada, but they were subject to a mandatory quarantine. Their biometrics were either collected upon arrival or were already banked, since they had come to Canada in previous years. In addition, on 15 May 2020, IRCC started accepting applications for the Agri-Food Pilot.

More information about temporary foreign workers and the ways they are affected by the restrictions imposed to protect Canadians from the pandemic will be provided in a forthcoming HillNote.

Additional Resources

Bashar Abu Taleb, Julie Béchard, Madalina Chesoi and Natacha Kramski. The Movement of Goods and People In and Out of Canada in a COVID-19 World, HillNotes, Library of Parliament, Ottawa, 11 June 2020.

CAIJ. “Immigration,” COVID-19, 8 June 2020. [in French only]

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. How the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is affecting immigration, refugees, citizenship and passport services, Ottawa, 1 June 2020.

Department of Justice. Government of Canada’s response to COVID-19, Ottawa, 2 June 2020.

Authors: Julie Béchard and Laurence Brosseau, Library of Parliament