Updated: Apr 17, 2020
As the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to restrict travel and business around the world, Canada's immigration system is adapting to deal with the unique challenges of the situation. In some cases, this means significant changes to how the system operates, while in other cases operations continue as normal.
One of the most significant changes to Canadian travel and immigration is the introduction of new quarantine requirements for arrivals to Canada. Whether they are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or not, travellers are required to isolate themselves for 14 days upon arrival. In order to be admitted into the country, they must show that they have a plan for isolation, including a suitable place to stay for the 14-day period. If they do not have arrangements to stay in a suitable place, they will have to spend their quarantine period in a hotel or other approved location. In addition, travellers will have to wear a mask or other face covering while travelling to their quarantine location. This can be any kind of mask; N95 medical masks are not required.
However, there are a few exceptions to these rules. People who cross the border regularly in order to provide essential services, such as delivery drivers, do not have to quarantine themselves every time they arrive in Canada. As long as they do not show symptoms, they can enter or leave as normal. However, face mask rules do apply to them while in Canada.
One major concern for Canadian employers as the scale of COVID-19 became evident was that they would be unable to recruit the necessary number of workers. Many Canadian employers, particularly in the agriculture and food sectors, rely on an influx of temporary foreign workers to make up shortages of Canadian workers. With new restrictions in place, businesses warned that a lack of foreign workers could lead to food shortages and other disruptions to the supply chain.
In response, the government removed some of the restrictions on hiring temporary foreign workers, making it quicker for employers to hire new workers from outside Canada. However, these new workers are still subject to the same 14-day isolation restrictions as any other entrants to Canada. In order to offset the cost of these quarantine procedures, the government has allocated $50 million -- up to $1,500 per worker -- to pay for the cost of providing for these new arrivals while they are isolating. Employers are expected to provide housing, food, and sanitation for their temporary foreign workers while they comply with public health rules. This funding will be available as long as the Quarantine Act remains in force.
Even though new entries to Canada are restricted, many parts of the Canadian immigration system are continuing as normal. Because these processes apply to people who may not arrive in Canada for years to come, they need to continue if Canada is to hit its target of welcoming over 300,000 new immigrants every year between 2020 and 2022.
Examples of immigration processes that continue as normal during the COVID-19 lockdown include Express Entry draws, which are continuing as normal. 2020 has seen over 30,000 Invitations to Apply issued as a result of the Express Entry system. The high rate of issue reflects the desire to see the influx of new immigrants return to normal as soon as travel restrictions are lifted; economists see a steady stream of new arrivals as a vital part of restoring the Canadian economy once pandemic restrictions are lifted.
However, there is some evidence that even these routine operations of the immigration system are showing the effects of the pandemic. The Express Entry draw held on April 16th, which issued 3,782 invitations, was targeted exclusively at applicants in the Canadian Experience class. This focus solely on Canadian Experience applicants is very rare -- only three other draws in the program's history have included only candidates from this class -- and may be a response to the COVID-19 situation. Because the Canadian Experience class consists of skilled workers who have already been working in Canada, it may be that IRCC saw fit to focus on that class since they could proceed through the permanent residence application process without having to travel to Canada first.
As the global situation changes rapidly, many aspects of Canadian society are changing in response. This can lead to rapid and frequent changes in immigration systems and procedures; new rules can be announced and come into effect very quickly. No matter how specific rules and procedures change, however, the system will remain focused on encouraging new immigration while meeting the needs of Canada's businesses and protecting the health of the Canadian public.