2020 has been quite the year.
The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc around the world, but there is plenty of reason for hope.
Numerous coronavirus vaccines have been developed and vaccination campaigns are underway around the world including here in Canada.
The start of the year was largely uneventful for Canada’s immigration system. The Canadian government had a new mandate and new immigration minister following a federal election in late-2019. The government’s immigration mandate letter and official policy statements suggested no major changes. Canada would continue to welcome high levels of immigrants, international students, and foreign workers to support a strong economy and society.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.
The following is an overview of what CIC News considers to be the top 5 Canadian immigration stories of 2020.
On October 2nd, just a week before the country’s Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the Canadian government announced new major exemptions to its coronavirus travel restrictions. In his remarks that day, immigration minister Marco Mendicino acknowledged that the travel restrictions were creating hardship for families in Canada, which is why the government was relaxing its rules to allow extended family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents to enter the country.
Up until that point, the only family members exempt from the travel rules were immediate family (the spouses, common-law partners, dependent children, grandchildren, parents or step-parents, and guardians or tutors of Canadian citizens and permanent residents).
The October 2nd announcement allowed for a more open definition of family, which now includes individuals in an exclusive and long-term relationship and their dependent children, non-dependent children, grandchildren, siblings, half-and step-siblings and grandparents.
Needless to say, the exemption for extended family brought significant relief to Canadians who had not been able to see their loved ones since the start of the pandemic.
The October 2nd announcement also exempted more international students from the travel restrictions. However, Canada had been gradually rolling out a series of major accommodations for international students throughout the pandemic.
Up until that announcement, only some international students were eligible to travel to Canada, namely those who were in possession of a study permit when the travel restrictions took effect. However, this was lifted in October allowing more study permit holders enrolled at Canadian colleges and universities with coronavirus readiness plans to also enter the country.
Arguably the biggest accommodation, however, was announced by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) on May 14 and has proven to be CIC News’ most read story of 2020. IRCC stated that international students could conduct their studies at Canadian colleges and universities while abroad up until December 31, 2020 and not have those studies affect their eligibility for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP).
IRCC had previously announced a relaxation to its PGWP rules but it was only for a limited period. By extending it through to the end of the year, IRCC was strongly encouraging international students to go ahead with their Canadian studies during the pandemic. Prior to the changes, online studies could not count towards PGWP eligibility.
The reason the PGWP accommodation is so important is that the vast majority of international students want to transition to permanent residence in Canada. Often times, they need to obtain Canadian work experience after their studies here to be eligible for Canadian immigration. The PGWP has proven to be a cornerstone of such efforts, and is now by far Canada’s most popular work permit option. The PGWP enables international students to gain the work experience they need to be eligible for permanent residence, and eventually make the transition to becoming the Canadian citizens of tomorrow.
Without IRCC’s accommodations, many international students would likely have either foregone studying in Canada, or delayed their studies, which would have hurt the Canadian economy even further. Instead, IRCC’s changes provided students with the green light to begin their studies online, and still reap the benefits of the PGWP.
IRCC has since extended its PGWP eligibility period again through to April 30, 2021.
Most of Canada’s immigrants are welcomed as economic class skilled workers, and Express Entry is the main way Canada manages skilled worker applications.
Prior to the pandemic, Express Entry draws were occurring approximately every two weeks, usually on Wednesday’s, with between 3,000-4,000 successful candidates receiving immigration invitations each draw.
Canada’s announcement of travel restrictions on March 16, 2020 created uncertainty regarding Express Entry. It was unknown if draws would continue and whether candidates who were overseas would be considered.
On Wednesday March 18, the regularly-scheduled Express Entry draw occurred, however in what was a rarity at the time, only Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) candidates were considered. In another rarity, IRCC proceeded to hold another draw just a few days later on Monday March 23, in which it only considered Canadian Experience Class (CEC) candidates.
Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) candidates make up the lion’s share of successful Express Entry immigrants, but they sat anxiously over the months to follow as IRCC only invited PNP and CEC candidates.
Finally, on July 8, FSWP candidates were once again included in an Express Entry draw and IRCC has stuck to “all-program draws” since September 2nd.
The biggest Express Entry story of the year is the sheer magnitude of the draw sizes. To make up for lower immigration to Canada this year, IRCC is holding the largest Express Entry draws since the system was launched in 2015, with 5,000 invitations being issued per draw, and Express Entry surpassing 100,000 invitations in a year for the first time ever.
This spells good news for individuals who want to apply for immigration to Canada as skilled workers in 2021 and beyond.
The Immigration Levels Plan announcement tends to be IRCC’s most important of the year as it outlines the number of newcomers Canada aims to welcome and the targets under the respective economic, family, and refugee classes. In recent years, the announcement has been fairly anticlimactic as the federal government worked towards welcoming over 300,000 new immigrants per year.
Given that Express Entry and the overall immigration system continued to operate since the start of the pandemic, the general expectation was that the Immigration Levels Plan 2021-2023 would also prove anticlimactic.
In a dramatic twist, however, minister Marco Mendicino announced on October 30th that Canada would embark on the most ambitious immigration plan in its history.
Beginning in 2021, Canada will target the arrival of over 400,000 new permanent residents each year. Canada has only achieved this target once in its history, back in 1913.
The 400,000 figure has been set to offset lower immigration to Canada during the pandemic, and also to support Canada’s post-coronavirus economic recovery.
But, the announcement will be discussed among Canadian history classes and in policy settings well beyond the pandemic, for decades and centuries to come. It marks the beginning of a new era in Canadian immigration and will have significant economic and social implications for the country and its people.
Consider that an immigration target above 400,000 could see Canada become a nation of 100 million people by 2100, which would make it one of the world’s most populated and perhaps influential countries. Canada currently has 38 million people, which means its ranks 39th globally in population. A Canada of 100 million people in 2100 could prove to be among the top 20 countries in population.
On the morning of Monday March 16, Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau stepped before a podium in front of his house and announced to a national audience that Canada would be shutting its borders as of March 18.
This was a surreal moment.
Trudeau, Mendicino, and the rest of the Canadian government proudly emphasized Canada’s openness to global talent. Since taking office in November 2015, Trudeau and his colleagues launched major initiatives to welcome refugees from Syria and other parts of the world in need, while also seeking to bring families together, and welcome more talent as immigrants, foreign workers, and students.
In fact, just four days before Trudeau’s speech, Mendicino had announced Canada’s 2020-2022 Immigration Levels Plan.
The dramatic speech by Trudeau made the coronavirus pandemic hit closer to home for Canadian immigration stakeholders and individuals overseas looking to come to Canada. It also showed how fluid the pandemic was. The government did not realize the gravity of the situation days earlier, until public health experts stressed the importance of shutting the borders to contain the spread of COVID-19, which obviously put a dent in the 2020-2022 levels plan.
The introduction of travel restrictions will impact Canada’s immigration system for years to come, as IRCC will need time to process the backlog of applications caused by the pandemic, and will need to modernize its systems so it can process applications more quickly after the pandemic is well behind us.
While the pandemic will have a lasting impact on the immigration system, it has not changed the rationale of Canada’s immigration policy. As demonstrated by stories # 2-5, Canada continues to be committed to welcoming global talent to support a strong economy and society.
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