Updated: Aug 27, 2020
Throughout the summer, the story of Canada's immigration system has been the story of reaction to the global Covid-19 pandemic. Despite ongoing restrictions in place to keep Canadians safe from the coronavirus, immigration processes such as Express Entry draws continue, although there have been some changes to reflect the changing circumstances.
On March 21, the United States and Canada agreed to temporarily close their shared border to non-essential travel in order to limit the risk of the spread of Covid-19. Although essential workers such as delivery drivers can still cross the border, many tourists and other travellers have been forced to curtail their journeys.
These travel restrictions are subject to review each month; at the end of each period, the two governments may decide to reopen the border or to extend them for another 30 days. Initially, hopes for a short-term closure were high, but as the pandemic continues to spread in the United States, the governments have renewed the restrictions every month. On August 21, the governments of Canada and the US confirmed what most border-watchers had predicted: restrictions have been renewed and will be reviewed again on September 21.
One unforeseen consequence of the travel restrictions is potential delay for students who live in the United States but attend school in Canada. The new travel restrictions will extend until after the beginning of the school year, while processing times for study permit applications have been extended by the effects of the pandemic. Normally, students would be able to bypass mail processing times by applying in-person at a border crossing or airport; however, since travel to Canada from the US for non-essential reasons is not permitted, many students will be unable to apply in this way. In order to be eligible for travel to Canada, student applicants must be able to demonstrate that their travel to Canada is essential -- that is, that they cannot take their courses without being physically present.
In the midst of ongoing travel restrictions, Canada continues to offer Invitations to Apply (ITAs) to prospective applicants for permanent residence. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) held two Express Entry draws within two days over August 19-20.
The first draw, on 19 August, was a program-specific draw for the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). This draw invited 600 recipients of provincial nominations to apply for residence. The high Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score of 771 required for applicants to be invited may reflect the high number of potential applicants in the pool.
Following the 19 August draw came a draw on 20 August focused on the Canadian Experience Class (CEC). This draw issued 3,300 ITAs to candidates with a minimum CRS score of 454. This score represents a slight increase on the most recent CEC draw, probably reflecting an increasing number of potential candidates.
Canadian Experience Class candidates have been an important part of the government's immigration strategy in the era of Covid-19. Canadian Experience candidates have experience working in Canada and, crucially, are usually already in the country. This allows them to go through the application process without the difficulties involved in travelling to Canada during the pandemic. During the early lockdown period, IRCC focused exclusively on Canadian Experience applicants, allowing the country to keep new applicants coming into the pipeline even while potential applicants outside the country were unable to travel.
Designed to give provinces the ability to customize their immigration intake to reflect their own needs, the PNP has been a mainstay of modern Canadian immigration policy. PNP draws this week included the largest ever draw in Prince Edward Island, held on August 20. This issued 305 invitations to candidates in the Express Entry, Business Impact and Labour Impact categories. These invitations went to candidates already living and working in Prince Edward Island, meaning that the immigration process can continue without the delays associated with travel restrictions.
With travel restrictions remaining in place and the coronavirus situation continually developing, the details of travelling or immigrating to Canada are in a state of flux. However, the fundamentals of the system remain unchanged in the form of the government's commitment to make it possible for those who want to live and work in the country to find a path to permanent residence.