Last Updated on November 20, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has severely disrupted the Canada immigration system since restrictions were first introduced in March 2020.

Canada’s federal government reacted by restricting international travel and closing the Canada-U.S. border, with most of the measures taken still in place eight months later and likely to remain into 2021.

COVID-19 policies have severely limited Canada’s ability to welcome new permanent residents, work permit holders and study permit holders.

Ottawa had a plan to welcome in the region of 341,000 new immigrants in 2020, a target that will not be met given the likelihood that travel and border restrictions will remain in place into 2021.

The federal government plans to significantly increase immigration levels from 2021 to 2023 to make up for the 2020 shortfall and fuel Canada’s economic recovery. The recent immigration levels plan presented by Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino allows for more than 400,000 new permanent resident arrivals per year over the next three years.

However, there remains significant doubt over when travel and border restrictions will be lifted, given the virus is on the increase across Canada. Recent good news regarding successful vaccine trials has provided hope that the world could begin to return to normality by midway through 2021.

Here, looks at how Canada immigration has been affected by COVID-19 in 2020.

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Which Foreign Nationals Can Travel To Canada?

Travel restrictions mean only foreign nationals in a limited number of categories are allowed into Canada.

Those who can travel include:

  • Immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents staying in Canada for 15 days or more.
  • Extended family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents staying in Canada for 15 days or more.
  • Person authorized to travel for compassionate reasons.
  • Other foreign nationals

    • Certain people already approved for permanent residence (more later).
    • Certain temporary foreign workers (more later).
    • Certain international students (more later).
    • Other categories including transiting passengers, certain family members of temporary residents and flight crew.

All travellers must quarantine for 14 days on arrival and present a viable plan for that quarantine to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officer at the border. The plan must include how they intend to transfer from the airport, where they will stay in isolation and how they will access necessities such as food.

Certain groups are exempt from the need to quarantine, such as truck drivers crossing the Canada-U.S. border.

Canada Permanent Residence and COVID-19

The number of permanent resident arrivals has plummeted in 2020 compared to 2019. In the first nine months the year, 143,465 newcomers arrived, compared to 263,945 in 2019.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is still accepting permanent resident applications, although it can provide no estimated processing times.

Applications from citizens trying to return to Canada, vulnerable people and those performing essential services are being prioritized.

Candidates are required to submit a full application, and advised to wait to apply if they cannot pull together all of the required documents due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Some of the documents causing difficulties include police certificates, biometrics, passports and medical exams, and applicants are being given a rolling 90-day extension where their application is held up.

Language tests were initially suspended back in March, although some testing centres have reopened over the last eight months.

Candidates already approved for permanent residence cannot enter Canada unless covered by an exemption to the travel restrictions.

Candidates are exempt if: 

  • Their permanent residence was confirmed before March 18, 2020.
  • Their permanent residence was confirmed after March 18, 2020 and they are an immediate family member sponsored by a citizen or permanent resident.
  • They are currently living in the U.S. and coming to Canada directly.

Candidates only meet the above exemptions if they are coming to Canada to settle permanently, are able to quarantine for 14 days and, if travelling by air, pass an airline health check.

Special Program For Asylum Seekers Working in Care Homes

Canada announced in August that it will make some asylum seekers who worked in hospitals and care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic eligible for permanent residence.

The province of Quebec was particularly affected by a care home staffing crisis during the early stage of the pandemic. Now asylum seekers who stepped into help are to be rewarded.

Express Entry and COVID-19

Canada has continued to issue Invitations to Apply (ITAs) through the Express Entry system despite the restrictions in place due to the pandemic.

Indeed, 2020 has been a record year, with Canada issuing more than 92,000 ITAs to prospective skilled worker immigrants. 

Initially, IRCC switched to inviting only Canadian Experience Class and Provincial Nominee Program candidates, considering them more likely to already be in Canada and therefore not subject to travel restrictions.

However, after initially resuming in July, all-program draws have become the norm again since the start of September.  

Due to the pandemic, candidates receiving an ITA currently have 90 days to submit a full application.

Quebec Immigration and COVID-19

Quebec continues to accept applications for permanent residence but says processing times are likely to be affected by the coronavirus crisis.

The province was an important driver behind the decision to offer asylum seekers working in Canada’s care homes a pathway to permanent residence.

Early in the crisis, Quebec’s immigration ministry moved to extend the stay of international students whose Quebec Acceptance Certificate (CAQ) expired as of April 30, allowing them to apply to stay in the province until the end of 2020.

Quebec welcomes 18,155 new immigrants in the first eight months of 2020, compared to 25,550 during the same period of 2019.

The governing Coalition Avenir Quebec says it plans to increase immigration levels in 2021 to offset the drop in immigration seen in 2020.

It was to welcome a maximum of 30,500 newcomers in 2020, rising to a maximum of 47,500 in 2021.

Provincial Immigration and COVID-19

Canada’s provincial immigration programs have reacted in different ways to the coronavirus crisis.

Measures were implemented by most provinces to help applicants affected by the pandemic.

IRCC announced in September that Provincial Nominee Program candidates who lost their employment offers due to coronavirus have a year to find a new job and still qualify for Canada immigration. 

While most provinces have worked to get back to issuing Invitations to Apply and provincial nominations on a regular basis, only Alberta has announced it plans to limit immigration to help provide jobs for locals during the recovery.

Citizenship and COVID-19

The number of people becoming Canadian citizens has effectively ground to a halt during the pandemic.

Citizenship confirmation ceremonies and citizenship tests were initially completely suspended. 

While a limited number of ceremonies are now taking place online, language and knowledge tests are yet to resume.

In the first six months of 2020, a total of 62,696 people became Canadian citizens, compared 127,580 in the same period of 2019.

Temporary Workers and COVID-19

Canada quickly introduced an exemption to travel restrictions for temporary workers, soon after the travel restrictions and border closures were put in place in March.

This was in recognition of the vital role temporary workers play in keeping Canada’s economy ticking, including working on farms to maintain the food supply.  

Temporary workers coming to Canada are exempt from travel restrictions provided their travel is essential.

They are considered essential if they have a valid work permit and normally live in Canada, or if they have a letter of introduction for a work permit, a valid job offer and are ready to start work after their 14-day quarantine.

As a result of the exemption, temporary worker numbers did not fall as dramatically as numbers of new permanent residents.

Through the International Mobility Program, 127,230 temporary workers arrived in the first eight months of 2020, compared to 193,860 in the same period of 2019.

Through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, 66,175 temporary workers arrived in the first eight months of 2020, compared to 78,195 in the same period of 2019.

International Students and COVID-19

International students have been the subject of a number of policy changes during the COVID-19 crisis.

As of October 20, 2020, international student have been allowed to travel to Canada provided they are attending a Designated Learning Institution (DLI) with a COVID-19 readiness plan approved by their provincial or territorial government. They must still quarantine for 14 days on arrival.

A full list of eligible post-secondary schools is here.

Initially, international students were allowed to travel to Canada provided their Study Permit was granted before March 18, 2020.

A new 2-step process was introduced for students starting in fall 2020 who had to begin their courses online. The process involved approval in principle for candidates beginning their studies online, with full approval to be granted at a later date when the candidate arrived in Canada.

Changes were also made to the Post Graduation Work Permit for students who needed to switch to taking their courses online.

Students in one of the following categories remain eligible for the PGWP if at least half of their program is completed in Canada:

1) Study permit holders who had already begun their studies in Canada, but left Canada and are continuing their courses online.

2) Candidates approved for a study permit for a program starting in spring, summer or fall 2020, who will begin their program online instead of trying to travel to Canada.

Canada Immigration and COVID-19: The Future

Canada’s federal government, as well as Quebec, have announced plans to increase immigration in 2021 and beyond, once the coronavirus pandemic has subsided.

The important question is: when will that be?

Case numbers are currently on the increase in Canada, meaning there is no sign of international travel restrictions being eased or the Canada-U.S. border opening.

With recent positive vaccine news, it is possible to start thinking of when the pandemic ease and normal life can resume.

The soonest that could happen looks like spring or early summer 2021. 

When it eventually does happen, expect Canada immigration number to increase quickly, as the immigration-fuelled recovery strategy is put into practice.

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