Extending your stay in Canada during the coronavirus pandemic
While obtaining a Canadian permit or visa is a goal for countless foreign nationals around the world, the status it confers may need to be extended. This could raise a host of issues that the foreign national may not have faced in their initial application.
Gaining an extension may prove even more complicated than usual given the latest travel bans, border closures, and restrictions implemented in response to coronavirus (COVID-19).
Study permit renewal
In order to renew their study permit, students must explain why a new authorization is required to continue their studies in Canada. This can be difficult to do if the person has not always been a full-time student or if they wish to change programs or schools. The extension must fit into the student's academic plan and ultimately be consistent with the student's career aspirations.
Work permit renewal
Work permit extensions are generally the most problematic as they require a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). Many employers and foreign nationals believe that this process must be completed only once, as a pre-requisite to the initial work permit application.
However, the effect of the foreign national on the Canadian labour force must be re-evaluated when applying for an extension. For exceptional work permits that do not require an LMIA, or that provide for a facilitated LMIA, proof of the worker’s eligibility must be provided in the same manner as the initial application.
Visitor visa renewal
Compared with students and workers, visitors have the least amount of time to apply for extensions since they are generally granted a stay in Canada for a maximum of six months at a time.
The reason for wanting to prolong their stay in Canada must be clearly indicated when a visitor is submitting an extension request. The federal government is wary of people trying to live in Canada permanently on a temporary visa. The onus is on the applicant to justify the extension and demonstrate that they will indeed return home at the end of their stay in Canada.
Regardless of the status in question, the concept of implied status can play an important role with respect to the extension of a stay in Canada.
Implied status refers to situations where an application to extend status is submitted while the foreign national’s permit or visa is still valid. In such cases, the foreign national may remain in Canada beyond the expiry date of their status until a decision is made on their application for extension.
During this period, the conditions to which their status was subject, and the privileges it conferred on them, are extended even beyond the expiry date. This means that a worker can continue to work, a student can continue to study, and a visitor is simply allowed to remain in Canada as a visitor.
There is an important caveat to this rule and it applies to the foreign nationals who leave and re-enter Canada while they are on implied status. If a foreign national does so, regardless of the reason for departure, implied status is generally lost and the discretion to allow the foreign national to re-enter the country lies with the immigration officer at the border.
Expect processing delays during coronavirus
Although the IRCC guidelines recommend that you apply for an extension of your temporary stay 30 days before your status expires, it is not a mandatory rule. However, because of the many questions that may arise with respect to extending status in Canada, applicants looking to extend their status should begin working on their extension as soon as they are aware they will be seeking an extension.
This is particularly important with the emergence of COVID-19 as it is uncertain how visa processing will be impacted by this unexpected pandemic and it is wise to begin extension preparations as soon as possible to take into account potential delays.
Extension of temporary stay through “flagpoling” – now not allowed as it is deemed non-essential travel
With respect to how a request for an extension is made, a person in Canada can generally either apply online or go to the Canadian border to apply at the port of entry.
The latter process is commonly referred to as "flagpoling". It involves the foreign national simply entering the United States and then immediately returning to Canada to submit the extension request to Canadian border officials.
This is generally the quickest way to have an extension approved because if the extension is granted, the new visa or permit is issued immediately and the foreign national returns to Canada with their extended status.
While it is the fastest extension option, it is not available to all foreign nationals in Canada. For example, foreign nationals from countries that require a temporary resident visa (TRV) and who are looking to extend their visitor status, or change their status from visitor to worker, are unable to flagpole.
Similarly, foreign nationals of any country seeking to extend their study permit cannot do so by flagpoling as only U.S. citizens are allowed to apply for a study permit at the Canadian port of entry.
Finally, since flagpoling involves entry into the United States, foreigners not authorized to enter the United States cannot use this process to extend their status.
The emergence of COVID-19 has led Canada to close its borders to anyone who is not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident and flagpoling is not permitted at this time.
Stephen Sherman is a Canadian immigration attorney with the Campbell, Cohen Immigration Law Firm in Montreal. He specializes in assisting foreign nationals to work legally in Canada and resolving issues relating to criminal inadmissibility to Canada.
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