On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization officially declared the pandemic of the COVID-19. Canada introduced travel restrictions on March 18 and closed the borders. Since then, the government has been extending the border closure every month. It is already one year since the pandemic.
The Canadian immigration system was deeply affected by the limitations caused by the pandemic. At the same time, not all groups equally suffered from the COVID-19 effect. While the majority of outland economic and family class immigrants are stuck in limbo, without having the ability to enter Canada, some groups of immigrants can truly claim themselves as real beneficiaries of the coronavirus crisis.
Tough times open new opportunities.
This is very true for international students and foreign workers. Foreign nationals with approved temporary resident visas are prohibited from coming to Canada just like all tourists who have a visitor visa. Yet, individuals whose study permits and work permits have been approved kept coming to Canada under various exemptions from travel restrictions. Moreover, these two groups are also the top priority for the government to obtain permanent resident status.
In 2017, Canada launched a new approach to attract more foreign students. As a result, the total number of students in the country has tripled since then. International students are investing more than $21 billion in Canada’s economy, and this is half of all income from studying in local institutions. To prohibit these students from coming to Canada meant to double strike Canadian universities and colleges amidst the recession. Therefore, IRCC offered international students the widest range of temporary policies to diminish the negative effects of the pandemic.
At first, Canada offered students to start their programs online. From October 20, 2020, international students, who attend designated learning institutions (DLIs) with approved COVID readiness plans were allowed to enter Canada. Then, the government allowed students studying online outside of Canada to keep their eligibility for a Post-Graduate Work Permit (PGWP) if they complete 50% of their program in Canada.
Furthermore, in 2021, IRCC has expanded measures to help international students. For instance, from January 27 to July 27, 2021, international students with expired PGWP or a PGWP that expires in 4 months or less can apply for an Open Work Permit for 18 months. On February 12, 2021, IRCC announced that international students who have completed their entire online higher education program will be eligible for a three-year PGWP upon graduation. On March 10, 2021, the government extended this policy and students who started their programs in March 2020 and will be studying until the end of 2021, can count all study time from outside Canada to become eligible for the PGWP program. Now 100% of the duration of their program can be completed online without losing the right to participate in PGWP.
All those efforts were implemented with a single purpose – to keep attracting and retaining international students. These young and educated foreigners who possess skills and occupations required in the national labour market make them ideal candidates for immigration.
Canada faces a long-term shortage of talent due to high retirement rates and low birth rates. These problems were common before the pandemic, and some experts say they could worsen because of it. That’s why Canadian Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino has always said that immigration will remain a priority for their work in the post-coronavirus world.
During the COVID-19, many Canadians lost their jobs. Yet, many preferred to receive government aid of $2,000 instead of working and earning a salary that is slightly higher than the government assistance. This caused additional demand for foreign workers, especially in several fields. At the same time, in many sectors, Canada relies on foreign workers for years. A good example is the agriculture sector. Without seasonal agricultural temporary foreign workers, the nation cannot harvest all the crops.
Beginning April 2020, IRCC along with ESDC enforced exemptions for processing LMIAs for essential sectors of the economy such as agriculture, meat and fish industries, farmworkers, and truck drivers.
Foreign workers who are already in Canada are the second most desirable group of immigrants as they already work and pay taxes and, in that way, contribute to the national wealth.
Immigrants are expected to play a critical role in Canada’s exit from the pandemic. In an effort to meet the immigration targets set for the year, IRCC developed a set of policies that ensured the processing of the immigration application. In a sense, Canada decided to offer international students and foreign workers the best deal and prioritize them over candidates abroad who may possess higher human capital.
For instance, from March 18, 2020, to August 20, 2020, the vast majority of the Express Entry draws targeted only candidates in the Canadian Experience Class and Provincial Nominee Program. In this period, IRCC issued invitations to almost 40,000 such candidates. Over 90% of those candidates already resided in Canada, and thus, IRCC was able to finalize their applications. Since January 2021, IRCC again returned to this practice, concentrating on in-Canada applicants. As for provincial nominees, two-thirds of them are nominated under the streams that require a job offer or Canadian work experience.
On February 13, 2021, 27,332 Canadian Experience Class candidates were invited to apply for permanent residency in Canada in a single Express Entry draw. Moreover, about 80% of CEC candidates are former international students who did the whole way from being a study permit holder to a post-graduate foreign worker, and finally a candidate for permanent residence.
The main conclusion that the experts do from the pandemic is the importance of coming to Canada either as international students or foreign workers. Once you are legally in Canada, there will be much more opportunities to transform your temporary residency into a permanent residency in Canada. As of December 2020, there were over 300,000 valid study permit holders and about 250,000 valid work permit holders. Those people can help Canada to meet its immigration target of 401,000 immigrants in 2021 as outlined in the 2021-2023 Immigration Levels Plan.
Kay Kim ICCRC
Director of UVANU International Consulting & Webelieve Canadian Immigration Services