COVID-19 impacts on family and refugee immigration to Canada

Updated: Sep 06, 2020 | Tags: Canada Immigration, COVID-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in major changes to the way Canada's immigration system works in practice. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has been forced to change procedures and prioritize some applicants over others as a response to travel restrictions and other challenges. In light of this situation, many Canadians are considering how Canadian immigration procedures will need to change in a post-Covid world.

How has Canadian family and refugee immigration changed due to COVID-19?

Immigration is a vital part of the Canadian economy, from foreign workers in essential industries such as agriculture and health care to the supply of new workers and business owners needed to counteract the effect of Canada's ageing population. In addition to workers who arrive to bolster the economy, new arrivals to Canada also include others such as refugees or family members of those who have already moved to the country.

These groups have been among those most significantly affected by immigration changes in the wake of Covid-19. During the pandemic, travel restrictions have made it much more difficult for newcomers to enter Canada. As a result, IRCC has focused on extending invitations to apply (ITAs) to potential residence applicants in the Canadian Experience class. These would-be permanent residents are likely to already be in the country, making it simpler for them to apply even despite limits on travel. Other categories of applicant have only recently begun to receive new ITAs. As a result, immigration numbers for the family and refugee classes have decreased notably. Family-class immigration was down 78 percent in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the second quarter of 2019. Refugee immigration was down even further, with an 83 percent decrease from the same period of 2019. Economic immigration was also affected, although less severely, seeing a decline of 52 percent.

Possibly in response to this decline, a survey shows that an increasing number of Canadians think that the first priority for Canadian immigration should be reuniting families. "Canadian Views on Immigration Levels and Immigration Categories in the Covid Era," a new report by the Association for Canadian Studies, shows that around 36 percent of Canadians now believe that family members of existing immigrants should be the first priority for the government, a step up from 30 percent in 2016 and significantly ahead of all other categories.

Will the COVID-19 immigration survey results be reflected in future immigration policy?

It's hard to say. With overall immigration down 64% year-on-year in the second quarter of 2020, many different immigration categories will have a claim to priority. Part of the post-Covid adjustment will be balancing those claims in a way that's fair to all categories.

How is the Canadian government supporting immigration during a humanitarian crises and COVID-19?

The explosion that devastated the port of Beirut, Lebanon on 4 August is estimated to have killed at least 200 people and injured thousands. Hundreds of thousands more have been made homeless or forced to evacuate. In response to this humanitarian crisis, the Canadian government created an immigration task force to determine how Canada could help those affected by the blast. On 3 September, the task force announced its recommendations. IRCC will be prioritizing necessary travel documents for all Canadian citizens and permanent residents in Lebanon, as well as visa applications for family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents who have been affected by the disaster.

The two countries have historically close ties. In 2011, the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada estimated that there were approximately 45,000 Canadians in Lebanon, while over 200,000 Canadians can trace their roots back to Lebanon, according to the 2016 census.

Disasters such as this one indicate an often-overlooked role of Canada's immigration policy as part of the government's response to disasters worldwide. A similar example of immigration's role as an aspect of Canadian foreign policy can be seen in the government's recent efforts to support immigration from Hong Kong, another part of the world with a high number of Canadian citizens and permanent residents. How this role will continue in a world where Covid-19 levels in different countries may be hard to predict remains to be seen.

Canada needs to adopt a flexible immigration policy for a changing world

As Covid-19 continues to affect different parts of the world, Canada's immigration policy will need to be flexible in order to adapt to different travel restrictions and the needs of different groups. But as the situation in Lebanon shows, this is only one of the ways in which flexibility is a key element of Canadian immigration policy. By easing requirements and prioritizing some applicants, IRCC can adapt to a changing global situation. For the government, this type of flexible policy allows speedy response to developing situations. For potential applicants for work, study, or permanent residence, it means keeping up with the developing situation in Canada's immigration policies.