On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization assessed COVID-19 as a pandemic. The Canadian government has unveiled aggressive new measures to contain the coronavirus and this has direct impacts on Canadian immigration. This bulletin will provide a summary of the key immigration updates for the period between March 13, 2020 and March 23, 2020.
As at Wednesday, March 18, 2020 at 12:00 pm EST, only Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family members (i.e. spouses, common law partners, dependent children, parents and guardians) can return to Canada by air travel. There are some exceptions to the above policy, such as for airline crews, diplomats and travelers arriving in Canada in transit to a third country (not an exhaustive list).
As at March 20, 2020, the Canadian government provided that the exemptions to the air travel restrictions also apply to the following individuals:
- seasonal agricultural workers, fish/seafood workers, caregivers and all other temporary foreign workers in possession of a valid Canadian Work Permit;
- international students who hold a valid study permit, or have been approved for a study permit, at the time the travel restrictions took effect on March 18, 2020; and
- permanent resident applicants who had been approved for permanent residence before the travel restrictions were announced on March 18, 2020, but who had not yet travelled to Canada.
If a foreign national does not meet one of the above exemptions, then they can still travel to Canada from the United States by air if they have been in the United States for a continuous period of 14 days immediately prior to travelling to Canada.
As at March 20, 2020 at 11:59 pm EST, the US-Canada land border will be temporarily closed for 30 days until 11:59 pm EST on April 20, 2020. During the temporary land border closure all non-essential travel across the borders will be restricted. Non-essential travel includes travel for tourism or recreational purposes.
On March 23, 2020, the Canadian government has defined "essential travel" to include the following activities:
- work and study;
- economic services and supply chains;
- critical infrastructure support;
- health (immediate medical care);
- safety and security;
- shopping for essential goods (medication); and
- other activities at the discretion of the border services officer.
Foreign workers with valid Canadian Work Permits and international students with valid Study Permits are also able to return to Canada from the United States via the land borders, and must self-isolate on returning to Canada for 14 days.
Moreover, the Canadian government has defined immigration services as non-essential travel. Accordingly, Canada Border Services Agency will not process Work Permit, Study Permit or Permanent Resident applications at the land borders during the temporary border closure.
Immigration Canada Offices
Immigration Canada offices are now closed to the public. Further, the following in-person services are temporarily suspended until further notice:
- citizenship tests;
- citizenship interviews;
- citizenship ceremonies; and
- in-person permanent resident landing appointments (until April 13, 2020).
Immigration Canada is still processing both temporary and permanent resident applications. However, with many visa application centers currently temporarily closed due to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, applicants should anticipate delays in their applications.
Moreover, we anticipate there to be extensive delays in the processing of inland temporary and permanent resident applications. If your temporary resident status in Canada will expire within the next six months, then we recommend you to immediately commence in your extension application in order to prevent undue delay in processing your application.
On March 19, 2020, the Canadian government announced that both mail-in and in-person passport services are suspended until further notice. Please note if you need to travel outside of Canada urgently, you may be able to apply for a passport if you meet one of the below requirements:
- have a serious illness;
- must tend to the serious illness or death of someone you know;
- will have financial problems from the loss of a job or business; or
- must travel for humanitarian reasons.
British Columbia Provincial Nominee Program ("BC PNP")
On March 17, 2020, BC PNP temporarily closed their Vancouver office in order to work remotely until further notice. BC PNP continues to issue Invitations to Apply to the BC PNP and applications are currently being reviewed within the posted standard processing times.
In-person interviews for Entrepreneur Immigration have been cancelled and will be re-scheduled when possible.
Employment and Service Development Canada ("ESDC")
ESDC is still processing Labour Market Impact Assessments ("LMIA") applications. We anticipate there to be some delay in the processing time, especially with the 10 day speed of service for top 10 percent of wage earners.
The government has confirmed approved LMIAs will be valid for 9 months instead of 6 months.
Immigration Compliance for Employers
For employers who are assessing whether or not to temporarily lay off their employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are immigration considerations that need to be factored in to comply with Canadian immigration laws. In general, in order for an employer to temporarily lay off a foreign worker during the COVID-19 pandemic, the temporary lay-off must be justified in addition to complying with applicable employment laws. This means the employer must demonstrate that the temporary lay-off is in response to a dramatic change in economic conditions that directly affected the employer's business and the temporary lay-off was not directly disproportionately at foreign workers employed by the employer. In other words, the employer cannot choose to temporarily layoff foreign workers over Canadian citizens or permanent residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Guidelines for Canadian immigration and travel are evolving quickly and is subject to frequent change with little to no prior notice.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.