Updated: Apr 01, 2021
The ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic has had several significant effects on Canada's immigration system. Most notably, pandemic travel restrictions have made it more difficult for potential new permanent residents to travel to Canada. This decline in new arrivals, together with the death toll of the coronavirus, has caused Canada's population growth rate to plunge to levels not seen in over a century.
However, the decrease in new immigrants isn't the only major effect of Covid-19 on Canadian immigration. As workplaces adapt to the challenges of the pandemic, the offices, processing centres and other facilities that immigrants, overseas students, temporary workers and others need are experiencing significant delays.
In response to these delays, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is reacting not only by expanding processing capacity but also by announcing new processing times and extending deadlines.
IRCC has released an update giving current estimated processing times for various types of immigration paperwork. Different types of application require different processing times, but the backlog has affected most applications processed by the department.
Applications for permanent residence have been significantly delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic. IRCC now claims to be processing these applications at full capacity, but must still deal with an existing backlog of applications. According to the department, applications within the Canadian Experience Class from May 2020 are currently being finalized, indicating a processing time of approximately 10 months.
Citizenship applications are similarly taking longer than normal to process. Acknowledgement of Receipt letters for those applying to become Canadian citizens are currently taking approximately two months to send out, while the time to finalize a citizenship application currently stands at a little under two years, with most applications currently being finalized dating to early April of 2019.
Other types of application are being processed much more quickly. For instance, work permits for those inside Canada are currently taking around three to four months to finalize, with a similar processing time for study permit applications.
One feature of the Canadian immigration system that has emerged during the Covid-19 pandemic is its flexibility. One way in which the system has shown this flexibility is in extending application deadlines and relaxing regulations.
Normally, when someone in Canada on a visitor visa receives a job offer, they must leave the country again before applying for an employer-specific work permit. However, travel restrictions introduced to stem the spread of Covid-19 made this more difficult. In response, IRCC introduced a temporary measure that allowed applicants who met certain eligibility criteria to apply for a work permit while still in Canada on their visitor visa. These applicants were even permitted to begin work while the work permit application was still being processed.
Since the rule went into effect in late August 2020, over 1,000 people who arrived in the country on visitor visas have made use of the change to apply for work permits. Initially, this temporary change to the rules was slated to expire at the end of March 2021. However, IRCC has renewed the policy, extending it for another five months; it will now expire at the end of August 2021.
IRCC's announcement of its current processing times makes clear the scale of the challenge facing the department, but its extension of the temporary work permit rule suggests that it will respond to it by adapting its rules to the circumstances. This willingness to change existing rules or extend exceptions that were originally intended only to be temporary exemplifies IRCC's policies throughout the pandemic. Given the fact that the government is entering a three-year period when it plans to achieve ambitious new immigration targets with a significant deficit, it comes as no surprise that it's prepared to take extra steps to make immigration easier.
Of course, frequent changes in immigration rules and procedures do mean that both potential immigrants and people who simply want to travel to Canada will need to be even more alert than usual to ensure that their information is up-to-date. Although keeping track of these changes can sometimes be a challenge, the flexibility that they represent is an encouraging sign that Canada's immigration system is adapting to the limitations imposed by Covid-19.