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Green and Spiegel - An Immigration Law Firm
Posted in COVID-19
Apr 13, 2021

A Year in (COVID-19) Review

Peter Salerno and Jonathan Green

A Year in (COVID-19) Review

On March 16, 2020, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced new entry restrictions to Canada that would be implemented shortly after midnight on March 18, 2020. Around one year later, the restrictions continue to dominate international mobility and the landscape of Canadian immigration law. This article summarizes some of the key changes we have seen over the past year.

Travel Restrictions

The Government of Canada has continued to release multiple Orders in Council since the onset of the pandemic, which provide the legislative framework for the travel restrictions currently in effect. There are three Orders In Council that are renewed approximately every month and detail the limits on travel to Canada and the quarantine requirements upon entry.

As a result of these Orders In Council, there are different rules for foreign nationals entering Canada from the United States and those seeking entrance from any countries other than the United States. In addition, there are important differences for those who enter Canada by air or by land.

While Canadian citizens and permanent residents have maintained the right to travel to and enter Canada foreign nationals have remained prohibited from entering Canada for non-essential, optional purposes with some general exemptions provided by the Orders In Council for the following groups:

  • Immediate family members of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident who are staying in Canada for 15 days or more;
  • Extended family members of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident who are staying in Canada for 15 days or more;
  • Immediate family members of some foreign nationals residing in Canada temporarily;
  • Travellers seeking to enter for compassionate reasons (i.e. attending a funeral or end of life ceremony or being present during the final moments of life of a loved one);
  • Some temporary foreign workers;
  • Some international students; and
  • Any person whose presence in Canada is in the national interest, in the opinion of the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, or the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Each traveller, depending on the applicable travel exemption, is required to provide prescribed documentation at the border to demonstrate their eligibility and, moreover, must have already used ArriveCAN to electronically disclose their travel and contact information, in addition to a suitable quarantine plan unless they are exempt.

There are a number of other requirements for travellers such as needing to wear a non-medical mask or face covering upon entry to Canada and while in transit to their destination as well as providing evidence of a negative COVID-19 test a maximum of 72 hours prior to their time of departure or entry into Canada. For further details of the testing requirements, we strongly recommend travellers review the most recent regulations for testing and/or speak with our team. Our blog post on this topic is another resource travellers may wish to review, which can be seen here.

With respect to quarantine requirements, all individuals entering Canada, except those considered exempt, are required to subsequently quarantine for 14 days. With limited exceptions, air travellers entering Canada must begin their quarantine at a government approved hotel until they receive a negative test result, which was administered upon entry into the country. Upon the receipt of a negative COVID-19 test result, individuals may travel to a new location to finish the remaining days of their 14-day quarantine. Individuals must also receive a negative COVID-19 test prior to towards the end of their 14-day quarantine. They may leave to have this test administer but must return immediately.

The initial COVID-19 travel restrictions imposed by the Government of Canada were extremely specific and made it more difficult for family members to reunite with their loved ones if they were not Canadian citizens or permanent residents. There was furthermore no testing requirement prior to entry, upon arrival, or prior to leaving the 14-day quarantine. There was no hotel quarantine requirement and there was a lack of guidance on individuals considered to be in the national interest or those considered essential workers. Many individuals whose presence in Canada was very important, such as international students, faced challenges to continue their education.

The Government of Canada’s current border restrictions have changed significantly from the beginning of the pandemic. While some new restrictions have been introduced, such as the testing and hotel quarantine requirements, the government has implemented exemptions for family members to reunite, businesses to operate as best as possible, and for students to study while balancing the public health emergency.

Given the constantly changing entry requirements, if you are looking for information regarding the border restrictions, we recommend contacting us for further information.

Immigration Application Processing

The COVID-19 pandemic has influenced the processing of almost all types of applications. With the closure of many visa application centres (VACs) around the world and increased authorization required to enter Canada, individuals applying for permanent or temporary residence have been left waiting much longer than normal. For example, spousal applications have been significantly delayed to the point where Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is increasing the number of decision makers on these applications by 66% in the hopes of reuniting families faster.

As of April 12, 2021 many VACs remain closed completely in regions of countries like Ireland, Bangladesh, France, Mexico, and Brazil. Most VACs have recently resumed operations for limited categories or by only accepting documents sent by mail or courier. VACs have been opening up slowly around the world and will continue to increase as vaccination programs progress.

Express Entry

The Government of Canada did not meet their target for immigration in 2020. As a result, on October 30, 2020, Canada announced plans to target a new record of immigrants for the next three years. Canada aims to invite 401,000 new permanent residents in 2021, 411,000 in 2022, and 421,000 in 2023.

These high targets have already begun to influence the Express Entry system. On February 13, 2020, the IRCC invited over 27,000 individuals to apply for permanent residence with a minimum Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score of 75, the lowest CRS requirement and largest invitation to apply ever recorded in a single CEC draw. The previous draw for individuals in this category (skilled workers with Canadian work experience) required a minimum score of 454.

We expect Canada to continue to target immigrants with Canadian work experience as the year progresses. Further, we expect Canada to lower their minimum CRS score requirements for other prospective immigrants. If you have any questions about your eligibility for permanent residence in Canada, please do not hesitate to contact us to discuss.

Temporary Public Policy Changes as a result of COVID-19

A range of temporary public policy changes have come into force in the past year in response to the ongoing pandemic.

For instance, IRCC has recognized that many individuals have lost their employment as a result of COVID-19 and therefore implemented a temporary policy to assist current PGWP holders and former PGWP holders. Specifically, individuals who qualify under the program can be issued open work permits for a maximum duration of 18 months. Further, while distance learning historically would not count towards the length of the PGWP, IRCC has temporarily modified the requirements to allow for up to 100 percent of the program to be completed from outside Canada as some students have been unable to travel to Canada. Importantly, the time spent outside Canada until December 31, 2021, can be used towards the calculation of the length of the PGWP. 

IRCC also announced a Hong Kong Pathway to attract recent graduates and skilled workers to Canada. IRCC has implemented a fee waiver for temporary resident, worker, and student extension of authorization to remain in Canada applications. Priority processing has been announced for all study permit applications received from individuals with Hong Kong or British National (Overseas) passports and, as of February 8, 2021, foreign nationals with the abovenamed passports are eligible to apply for an open work permit.

Other important changes that have been introduced include an extension of the period in which a foreign national can restore their status and IRCC authorizing former work permit holders with job offers to work while their restoration and applications are being processed. This is an important policy to ensure individuals are able to remain working while switching employers. A full list of IRCC temporary public policies can be found here. If you have any questions about any of them, do not hesitate to contact us.

Virtual and Remote Commissioning and Notary Services

The Law Society of Ontario has approved remote commissioning effective August 1, 2020. Given the global nature of immigration law, this has been a welcomed initiative to ensure documents are properly commissioned and notarized. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some travellers must submit a commissioned statutory declaration for pre-approval prior to travelling. Allowing remote commissioning and notary services has sped up the process of reuniting loved ones.

Electronic Service and Remote Hearings

The Federal Court has approved electronic service of documents during litigation. Similarly, they have administered hearings remotely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both these practices are a welcome change and provide flexibility in ensuring clients’ needs are met notwithstanding the pandemic.

There have been many changes to the law since the pandemic began and many more are expected to happen soon. If you wish to discuss how these changes will impact you, your family, or your business, please schedule an appointment with us to discuss.


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