Parliamentary Committee: Impact of COVID-19 on Canada’s Immigration System



Canada’s Parliamentary Committee recently published the results of its study that focused on analyzing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the country’s Immigration. On the 13th of May, Salma Zahid, the committee’s Chairperson, presented the report at the House of Commons, which highlights the pandemic’s effects on three main Canadian Immigration classes, namely, family, economic, and refugees.

The report holds extensive analysis findings conducted by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, which basically consists of elected officials who are Canadian members of the Parliament, after taking into consideration personalized opinions and testimonies from lawyers, certain interest groups, immigrants, and other stakeholders. The committee comprises a minimum of one member belonging to every political party. Their prime functions include monitoring federal activities associated with multiculturalism and immigration and overseeing the refugee board and immigration department.

Few of the addressed topics included barriers affecting reuniting of families, backlogs of applications, COPR holders being restricted due to travel restrictions, among others. The Liberal minority-led Government has a period of 120 days to come up with a suitable response. Although it’s not the responsibility of the Government to transform its policies, 38 of these recommendations have already started being applied to some degree, while few of these are still in progress.

This is a comprehensive overview of the addressed recommendations that have been segregated into the following topics:

  • PR pathway for essential workers
  • Modernizing the immigration system
  • Permitting the entry of asylum seekers
  • Areas in need of more priority
  • Parents and Grandparents Program
  • Transparency, communication, accountability
  • Hong Kong residents
  • Family sponsorship
  • International students
  • Temporary measures for immigration documents
  • Work permits

PR pathway for essential workers

One of the recommendations that have already been established by the IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) is the creation of a pathway solely focused on providing PR (permanent residency) opportunities to essential employees. Even though the capacity of the International Graduate stream in these novel programs is at its maximum, Canada’s minister Marco Mendicino claims to raise caps in his interview with the Globe and Mail.

Modernizing the immigration system

Digitization of Canada’s Immigration System was the aim of at least 6 of these presented recommendations. The committee’s primary goal is complete digitization of the asylum and immigration systems, while also keeping some space open for submission of paper applications. There seems to be a possibility of online applications being submitted by applicants, virtual interviews being held by immigration officers, and an electronic mode of issuing visas. Instead of the traditional way of attaching PR visas to passports, they plan to issue them using a scannable barcode system.

Ever since the 2020 lockdown was implemented in the country, this suggestion has been in the works. Mendocino announced to the board his vision of completely digitizing the Immigration system of the country. For this purpose, Canada was willing to invest a total of $430 million.

The committee also has a crucial recommendation for the IRCC to invest more in settlement services for the promotion of digital literacy and increasing accessibility to digital tools.

Permitting the entry of asylum seekers

The committee recommends the IRCC promote the entry of asylum seekers and refugees into the country by teaming up with the model-like configuration of the Guardian Angel Program. It suggests that there should be a collaboration between the immigration department and resettlement partners like the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration. Another suggestion is that the IRCC should join forces to implement a program just like the Guardian Angel Program to cater to foreign workers, who despite their status, devoted immense contributions during the pandemic.

Areas in need of more priority

The committee is shedding light on investing more into the VAC (Visa Application Centre) staff in African francophone countries, in order to speed up the processing of student permits and biometric applications. Another suggestion is for the IRCC to give utmost importance to reuniting families for protected people, as some of them have been victims of delayed processing leading to them being estranged from their children.

The report also highlights how there should be an acceleration in the processing of extension applications targeting temporary residents while giving more importance to issuing AOR (Acknowledgement of Receipt) for PR candidates.

Parents and Grandparents Program (PGP)

The year 2019 witnessed the failure of the first-come-first-served applicant model (famous before the pandemic), which is why 2020 brought in with it the PGP which was wholly based on a lottery system. The main reason was the committee’s recommendation to create a weighted system in order to prioritize older applications.

It also encourages the IRCC to adjust its financial necessities to match the minimum necessary income for the years that were severely impacted by the economic recession caused by the pandemic.

Transparency, communication, accountability

Out of the total recommendations, 6 of them are a plea for increased accountability and transparency. The committee has a suggestion to the IRCC to carry out publications of anonymous application and processing data for all streams of immigration, irrespective of the candidates’ age, gender, religion, racial background, parental status, and country of origin.

An International student helpline will also be established accompanied by trained officers. There is a petition for real-time application tracking along with the provision of realistic processing times for each of the candidates. This should be facilitated by strong communication protocols and the complete release of records pertaining to the rejection of any application.

As a concluding note, the committee is determined to hire an immigration ombudsperson in order to receive complaints and look over the IRCC in general.

Hong Kong residents

The implementation of an open work permit for Hong Kong residents is already set in stone by the IRCC, which is included among these recommendations. However, in contrast to the current 3-year work permit, the committee aims for a 5-year Post-Graduate Work Permit to be granted to Hong Kong candidates who graduated from Canadian institutions.

The committee also wishes to implement two novel streams targeting the refugees and the family class. One should include extended family members of Canadians and activists who are ‘pro-democracy’ residing within Canada. The other should be a temporary public policy put in place to address the refugee claims of Hongkongers. Initiatives like the Rainbow Railroad should be employed as a model to provide identification and essential support in a discreet manner to asylum seekers.

Family sponsorship

This covers a major section of these recommendations. Although Marco Mendicino along with the IRCC has been aiming to prioritize family reunification, not much success was seen in this zone. Although the impending travel restrictions created obstacles in the reunion of many with their loved ones, such circumstances were prevalent well before the pandemic struck.

The committee wants the IRCC to provide temporary residency visas for those involved in spousal sponsorship. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations has a Clause titled 179(b) that’s disrupting many candidates from accompanying their spouse during PR application processing. Even though the concept of dual intent is in place, indicating that foreign nationals are permitted to apply for both, a PR visa, as well as a temporary visa, immigration officers, have been caught blatantly refusing applicants as they believe that the applicants may not leave at the completion of their authorized stay. This is what leads to the separation of some of the masses from their spouses during this PR application process.

The committee wants to develop a SuperVisa specially catering to spousal sponsorship members, which will function similarly to the PGP program.

One such key recommendation was encouraging the promotion of letting compassion into the system while communicating mistakes, which throws light on the need for IRCC to connect with applicants in order to rectify their mistakes and give them enough time to respond before directly handing back their completed file. If re-submitted, there is a petition that these files should regain their queue position.

Many recommendations also pave the way for handling childrens’ files, for example, as of the 1st of March 2020, it is recommended to lock in the ages of all dependent children until all PR applications have been processed. This will prevent them from aging out owing to the impending backlog. Priority should be given to international adoptions and there should be clear guidelines implemented in case children have medical emergencies.

International students

The fall of 2020 witnessed the IRCC opening its wings to accommodate international students since the temporary suspension of their entry ever since the virus struck. The committee is still firm in granting permission to these students to come to study in-person in the country.

They also want to give higher priority to those students wishing to pursue a full-time internship offer or a co-op placement situation as a part of their educational program. International students wouldn’t have to apply for a work permit separately as the internship itself would be added to the study permit. The IRCC has also been advised to explore provinces and territories in order to expand federal settlement eligibility thereby including temporary residents holding work or study permits. The IRCC has also been urged to verify acceptance rates for international students with their applications being processed in African countries.

Temporary measures for immigration documents

Exceptional measures have been vouched by 3 of these recommendations pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic. Taking an example, most people who had received approval for PR abroad have expired documents and were hence, unable to enter the country. The committee urges the need for the IRCC to allow those with expired PR cards to be able to enter Canada during the onset of this virus. There should be an extension for medical exams to more than a year and they should be processed alongside biometrics and criminal background checks.

Many of those affected and possessing expired visas were issued travel letters authorized by the IRCC before the 18th of March 2020. But, this rule doesn’t apply to COPR (Confirmation of Permanent Residence) holders who received their documentation well before the travel restrictions were implemented and hence, they aren’t permitted to enter Canada. This is because they had already witnessed the expiry of their documents as the validity of the COPR is attached with the holder’s passport and medical exam reports.

The IRCC has been compelled to automatically issue authorization letters in order to cater to COPR holders landing in Canada and finishing their PR landing. As long as the pandemic pertains, the requirement for renewal of expired documents must be eliminated. The IRCC has also been requested to permit those sponsored spouses with a lack of access to medical exams within their own country, to do the same in Canada on the authority of a visitor’s visa owing to COVID-19.

Work permits

As per the committee, Bridging Open Work Permits should be granted by the Canadian government to temporary residents of Quebec’s Skilled Worker Program who are yet awaiting their PR status.

Caregivers’ work permits must be barred from requiring an LMIA (Labour Market Impact Assessment) on account of the pandemic, provided they don’t already possess a work permit that is occupation-specific. Another recommendation is that the hours that went disrupted owing to the pandemic could be counted towards their pilot program’s qualifying working experience.

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