Updated: Mar 21, 2023
As the world marks the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, many Ukrainians remain displaced from their homes by the fighting. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, over 8 million Ukrainians have left the country to seek refuge in Europe alone. Additionally, millions of Ukrainians have been internally displaced within the country. Some estimates place the number of displaced people at over a fifth of Ukraine's population. Even Ukrainians who have not been forced from their homes are facing a new set of challenges, including economic hardship, unpredictable travel needs, and lack of access to some services.
In response to this ongoing crisis, Canada's government implemented new measures in March 2022 to make it easier for Ukrainian nationals and their family members to enter Canada. The Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) provide new exemptions and procedures for Ukrainian applicants, allowing them to get temporary residence, work permits, or study permits more easily in recognition of the circumstances.
In order to be eligible for CUAET, an applicant must be a Ukrainian national or one of a short list of qualifying non-nationals. These include the spouses or partners of Ukrainian nationals, as well as their dependent children or grandchildren. Non-Ukrainian family members of a Ukrainian national will need to prove their relationship to qualify for CUAET. For instance, the non-Ukrainian spouse of a Ukrainian national might have to provide a marriage certificate to prove that the couple is married or paperwork showing a shared address to prove that they are in a common-law partnership.
Given the crisis resulting from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Canadian government recognizes that applications for CUAET will need to be processed more quickly than most visa or residence permit applications. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) aims to process most applications within 14 days, although the agency warns that some applications may take longer.
Individuals still residing in Ukraine can apply for permission to enter Canada under CUAET via the IRCC portal. They cannot apply through the Canadian embassy or other Canadian government services. In order to apply, they will usually need a valid Ukrainian passport or other travel document, although if the applicant doesn't have access to these documents, it may be possible for an immigration officer to issue them a temporary travel document. The conflict in Ukraine means that many people may not have reliable access to their travel documents, and the application process takes this into consideration. When applying for a visitor visa via CUAET, the applicant can simultaneously apply for a work permit.
Visitors to Canada under CUAET can stay in the country for up to three years; as with any permission to enter the country, the actual length will vary depending on the applicant. At the end of that period, the temporary resident can return home or apply to extend their visa, work permit or study permit. The extended length of stay permitted, compared to a normal six-month visitor visa, results from the uncertain situation in Ukraine and the possibility that sending a Ukrainian visitor home might mean putting them at risk.
Applying for travel to or residency in Canada normally comes with a number of costs. For applicants under CUAET, almost all of these are waived. Applicants don't have to pay a processing fee or a fee for the collection of biometric data. However, if the applicant has to undergo a medical examination, some tests associated with this will still carry a fee. Since most applications won't require a medical exam, these cases will be rare, but they do mean that not all CUAET applications are completely free.
Applicants who are already in Canada and want to extend their stay can extend a visitor visa or work permit for up to three additional years or until their passports expire. Student applicants can extend their study permit up to the end of their studies. Applicants within Canada, like applicants in Ukraine, can be either Ukrainian nationals or their family members. As with applicants in Ukraine, applicants already in Canada do not have to pay the majority of the processing fees normally associated with this kind of application.
Canada already has a system for refugee immigration; CUAET is not part of it. This program is in addition to existing facilities for welcoming refugees and focuses on Ukrainians who want to leave their country temporarily as a consequence of the Russian invasion. Visitors arriving in Canada under CUAET can also make use of other programs set up to help displaced Ukrainians, such as the Jobs for Ukraine website set up by Job Bank to help employers provide jobs for Ukrainians arriving in Canada.
IRCC estimates the number of Ukrainian citizens or Canadian permanent residents of Ukrainian origin who have arrived in or returned to Canada since the beginning of 2022 at over 175,000. CUAET has had over 600,000 successful applications. The success of these programs is evidence of the high demand for safe, expedited travel for Ukrainians in the wake of Russia's invasion of the country.