Canadian immigration in 2021: What can we expect?

Kareem El-Assal
Published: January 4, 2021

2020 was the year of the coronavirus pandemic, which continues to have a significant impact on Canada's immigration system.

After welcoming 341,000 new immigrants in 2019, Canada continued to accept high levels of new immigrants at the start of last year but the immigration system was completely upended when COVID-19 emerged as a global crisis in March 2020.

Canada's COVID-19 travel restrictions have been in effect since March 18th, limiting the numbers of foreign nationals who can currently enter the country. However, the Express Entry system, Provincial Nominee Programs (PNP) and other forms of immigration processing continue to function.

The fluid nature of the coronavirus crisis means much remains uncertain as to what we can expect from Canada's immigration system in 2021. But, there are certainties in place which will benefit both Canada and future newcomers in 2021 and beyond.

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Canada's immigration system will not return to normal until the pandemic is over. Fortunately, the end of the pandemic is in sight due to the emergence and approval of several vaccines. Canada began the largest vaccination campaign in its history in December and aims to vaccinate all those who want COVID-19 inoculation by September 2021. Vaccinating Canada's residents will be one component to returning the country and its immigration system to normal. The other component is ensuring the global population and foreign nationals travelling into Canada are free from the virus.

Travel restrictions implemented by Canada throughout 2020 provide some sense of what COVID-19 policies it could continue to enforce even as the spread of the coronavirus begins to subside. For example, Canada could continue to keep its 14-day quarantine law as well as the requirement to obtain a negative COVID-19 test before travelling into Canada in place to help limit the spread of the virus within its borders.

It is important to stress that the crisis has not impacted Canada's resounding commitment to welcoming immigrants, temporary foreign workers, and international students. In fact, Canada has doubled down on this commitment due to the crisis. Under its new 2021-2023 Immigration Levels Plan, Canada aims to welcome over 400,000 new immigrants per year, which is the highest levels in its history.

While it is difficult to imagine Canada will be able to achieve this target in 2021 while the pandemic continues, the higher targets enable Canada's federal and provincial governments to continue to hold immigration draws and process applications. The reason for this is, even if Canada is unable to physically welcome as many new immigrants as it wants in 2021, it can provide them with the necessary approvals so they can move to Canada at a later date.

The emergence of vaccines, however, enables the Canadian government to explore potential changes to its travel restrictions. For example, Canada can explore lifting travel restrictions on newcomers who have received a COVID-19 vaccine and who also provide a negative COVID-19 test before entering the country. The lifting of such restrictions would help newcomer flows recover, which would give the country's economy a much needed boost. The rationale behind the 2021-2023 Immigration Levels Plan is that a significant increase in Canada's newcomer intake is needed to support Canada's post-COVID economic recovery.

We should get a clearer picture of the direction of Canada's immigration system sometime in January. Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is due to provide his cabinet members with new mandate letters. This has been delayed by the pandemic, but it is possible the letters will finally be unveiled this month. If so, a new mandate letter to Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino will outline what priorities the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will pursue over the years to come.

Another bit of certainty is IRCC has confirmed that the Parents and Grandparents Program (PGP) lottery for the 2020 intake will occur in early 2021, most likely this month. Up to 10,000 applicants will be invited to submit sponsorship applications to bring their parents and grandparents to Canada. Sometime later this year, IRCC will open the 2021 PGP intake window, and will hold another lottery to invite up to 30,000 applicants to sponsor their parents and grandparents.

It is fair to expect that IRCC and Canada's provinces and territories will seek to normalize the immigration system to the best of their abilities in 2021. At the very least, we can expect, and hope that 2021 will be a less turbulent year than 2020.

Find out if you’re eligible for Canadian immigration

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