Canada is currently in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its borders are closed to discretionary travel. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has suspended the processing of most temporary residence applications. The Canada Border Services Agency has put a pause on removing people from Canada. Civil servants are largely working from home. The Royal Bank of Canada is forecasting that 170,000 fewer people will become immigrants than what was planned pre-COVID-19.
At the same time, many provinces have begun reopening their economies. The Orders in Council closing the Canada – US border and Canada’s airports to international travel are supposed to expire on June 21 and June 30 respectively, although they may be extended.
The question that many are asking is what comes next for Canada’s immigration system.
While the processing of most temporary residence applications has been suspended during COVID-19 the ability of foreign nationals to submit them has continued. The implication is obvious. When COVID-19 ends there will be a massive backlog of applications. Significant processing delays should be expected.
The systemic delays will not be limited to the ability of visa officers to process applications. The collection of biometrics at Service Canada and most Visa Application Centers has been suspended since mid-March. When these centers re-open applicants will need to schedule appointments. Unless capacity is expanded each day that they remain closed is a day that will need to be added to how long it will take to schedule an appointment in the future.
Prior to COVID-19 the deadline to give biometrics after being instructed to do so was 30 days. At the start of COVID-19 this was extended to 90 days. New biometric instruction letters do not have a deadline. It would not be surprising if applicants in the future will be told that they have six months to provide biometrics until the backlog is clear.
Alternatively, and hopefully, IRCC may temporarily remove the biometrics requirement for all applicants, as it recently did for workers in the health-care sector, agricultural and agri-food sectors, and truck drivers.
Before COVID-19 the number of Comprehensive Ranking System points that an Express Entry applicant needed to receive an Invitation to Apply was around 470. Since COVID-19 that number has fallen to around 440. This was largely due to the fact that prospective registrants were unable to complete their language tests or get their credentials assessed (as the organizations that provide these services were closed), and because IRCC stopped inviting Federal Skilled Worker Programs to apply for permanent residency.
On May 25, 2020 IRCC issued an Invitation to Apply in the Canadian Experience Class to 3,515 applicants. The minimum score require was 440. There were, however, 30,188 individuals with profiles who had 441 points or more. Many people, most likely people prospective Federal Skilled Worker Program applicants, were clearly skipped over.
As new registrants are able to enter the pool, and especially once IRCC starts issuing Invitations to Apply to the Federal Skilled Worker Program, the number of Express Entry points that will be required to immigrate to Canada will likely skyrocket.
Port of Entry Applications
Prior to COVID-19 individuals could, depending on their nationality and application category, provide biometrics, land as permanent residents, submit work permit applications and submit study permit applications at Canadian ports of entry.
At the end of March, 2020 the Government of Canada introduced regulatory amendments which provide the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness with the authority to specify which types of services the Canada Border Services Agency will provide at a given port of entry. Most port of entry immigration services have since been suspended.
It is well known that the Canada Border Services Agency does not particularly enjoy processing immigration related applications (especially for those who are “flag-poling”) and it is possible, if not likely, that it will use its new regulatory authority to reduce the number of immigration functions that it has to perform in the future.
Many work permit programs require that employers demonstrate that the hiring of a foreign national will have a positive or neutral impact on the Canadian labour market. A key factor in this is showing that there is a labour shortage. The unemployment rate is almost triple what it was before COVID-19.
Companies should expect increased scrutiny going forward. Employers with Labour Market Impact Assessment applications in the queue are already being advised that they should re-recruit for at least two weeks. More is likely to come.
A U-Shaped Recovery
It is becoming almost cliché to state that shutting down the economy was hard and re-starting it is going to be harder. The same unfortunately is likely to hold true for Canada’s immigration system. The measures imposed in response to COVID-19 are going to take time to resolve. For some the inability to work, study or travel now will impact their immigration options months or years from now. The advice remains the same. Those who are currently eligible for a program that they wish to apply to should apply now, because the future is very uncertain.