As an update to our earlier post regarding the impact of COVID-19 on immigration dated March 25th, 2020, we would like to revisit this topic now, and to provide the most current information relating to visa processing, permanent residence processing and citizenship processing.
At present, Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is not processing applications normally. Due to limited staff and volume built up over the past couple of months, processing times are no longer accurate and are getting longer as the pandemic goes on.
Canada welcomed 341,000 permanent residents in 2019 and was set to usher in another 370,000 this year, but that number is forecast to be down by as many as 170,000, according to a RBC report recently released. The first-quarter immigration data on arrivals all indicated drastic decreases in the number of permanent residents, migrant workers and international students. This comes as no surprise granted the travel bans, processing delays and landing interviews being postponed.
The travel ban on non-essential travel between Canada and USA is currently set to expire on June 21, 2020, but could be extended. The travel ban on international travel to Canada (including non-essential travel) is set to expire on June 31, 2020 but could be extended also. As such, by the end of the current month, international travel could be reinstated along with the continued processing of temporary residence visas including student visas, work permits and visitor visas.
The delay in processing times is also caused, in part, due to closures of international visa offices which handle biometrics collection and passport collection for online applications. Even inside Canada applicants have faced office closures that limited their ability to fulfill biometrics enrolment, pass medical exams and obtain other services such as photos. There is no official word on when international VACs or Service Canada offices are set to resume normal operations.
The case remains that certain occupations are priority in LMIA processing by Service Canada whereas others will face challenges due to the rising unemployment rate among domestic workers. Those priority occupations are, namely, in the agricultural field, trucking and health care. A new agri-food pilot was launched in May in order to provide a path to permanent residence for agricultural workers and is now accepting applications. Employers who have given lay off to some employees may have problems with obtaining LMIAs for foreign workers in the next two years.
A number of policy changes have been announced that benefit international students in Canada. Among them are the fact that up to 50% of a program of study can be completed online and eligible for the post graduate work permit. Students inside Canada who are employed in essential occupations are allowed to work full time (restrictions apply). A Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) was announced to help students financially where they have experienced the loss of employment income due to COVID-19. Students who are abroad and have not yet arrived in Canada can start their program online and come to Canada to resume studies at the first available opportunity.
For those who have met the requirements of permanent residence, IRCC has been issuing letters that confirm permanent resident status and directing applicants to send photos for permanent resident cards. There is a new process which does not require a landing interview prior to becoming a permanent resident but still reserves the right of IRCC to withdraw the PR where warranted in the future.
Citizenship tests are on hold and so are grant of citizenship applications at this time. Processing times are exceeding the average of 12 months for grant of citizenship applications and the situation may get worse as the pandemic continues.