“Why not us?”: Many approved permanent residents still not allowed to travel to Canada

Shelby Thevenot, Mohanad Moetaz
Published: March 5, 2021

Permanent residency applicants, who were approved on or after March 18, 2020, are calling for answers as to when they will be able to start their new lives in Canada.

Approved permanent residents hold a Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR), which means they passed the entire permanent residency process and were approved by IRCC. They passed medical exams, as well as federal government security and safety checks. The last remaining step is for them to physically enter Canada and officially become permanent residents.

With the current travel restrictions, foreigners holding a COPR are not allowed into the country if their documents were issued after Canada closed its border. They must be exempt under some other condition, like coming to reunite with family, or they must be residents of the U.S.

As a result, people around the world who are one step away from being Canadian permanent residents are stuck in their home countries.

“We are just sitting at home with no clear plan in sight,” Abdul Akarigidi from Nigeria told CIC News.

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Akarigidi and his family were approved for permanent residence in early February, but they were turned away at the airport shortly after. The rejection came after a long two-year application process for permanent residency, and amid buzz that people with families in Canada were allowed to fly.

“I find that a tad unfair to segregate people on the basis of having a family in Canada,” Akarigidi said. “We all have equal roles to play in the economic growth of Canada and it's rather unfair to be treated this way.”

Under the current travel restrictions, family members of Canadians are allowed to enter the country. Some other groups who are exempt from travel restrictions include work permit holders, students at certain institutions, and COPR holders who were approved before the border closed, among others.

“If they can open doors to students and temporary workers, why not us?” asked Deepa Joy from India, another approved permanent resident. “I don’t get their point as to why we were issued [COPRs] if they wanted to ban [us] in this way.”

The border has been closed to post-March-18 COPR holders for almost a full year. Initially, it was closed until June 30, but since then the restrictions have been extended on a more-or-less monthly basis. The rules were more strict in the beginning, but by the fall IRCC made exemptions for extended family members of Canadians, and students who were attending Designated Learning Institutions that had approved COVID-19 readiness plans, among others— but not the people whom the immigration department had approved for permanent residence.

After receiving the approval, many people started making arrangements to uproot their lives to come to Canada. They quit their jobs, sold their homes, and pulled their kids out of school. With the new quarantine and COVID-19 test requirements, some even tried to board the plane with their non-refundable hotels already booked.

Ibukun Ashiru, a post-March-18 COPR holder in Nigeria, told CIC News that her family had been turned away when they were about to board their flight. Although they had a place to go back to, they had sold all their belongings including their furniture. Ashiru said they have been sleeping on the floor.

"You can imagine having a four-year-old child, my husband, and myself coming back to an empty house," Ashiru said. "It's crazy. It's not something I would wish on an enemy."

IRCC confirmed in a statement that these COPR holders will not have to restart the full permanent residency process over again if their documents expire while travel restrictions are in place:

“...If [post-March-18 permanent residency applicants’] documents expire, they may eventually be able to have their COPRs extended, but only once they are allowed to come to Canada. Information on what they will need to do to get this extension will be available when the time comes. These applicants are reminded they should not book flights or attempt to travel until the restrictions are lifted and IRCC extends the validity of their documents. They will not have to start the full PR application process over again if their COPR expires while travel restrictions are in place and they still want to come to Canada once the restrictions are lifted.”

This news does not come as surprising to Ashiru.

“I know that IRCC usually has a way of renewing or extending those visas such that when they expire they issue you an authorization letter to travel,” Ashiru told CIC News. “The issue we have… is that the timeline within which such letters are issued or the visas are extended is very long.”

It also doesn’t help Joy, whose family has been without income since November, unable to make new plans with such an uncertain future ahead.

“Even though they say we don't have to start the application process all over again, only if they remove the ban can we move to Canada to start our new life,” Joy said. “Presently, we are out of [the] job here as we are waiting to travel to Canada anytime they open. Else our visas will expire and that will be another long wait for the IRCC to issue us authorization to travel.”

IRCC had to extend an influx of expired COPRs in 2020, after coronavirus caused the world to shut down and people were not able to travel to Canada before their documents expired. They needed an authorization letter from IRCC in order to board their flight. Many pre-March-18 approved permanent residents ended up waiting many months for this letter, not knowing when they would be able to come to Canada.

Canada's travel restrictions for non-U.S. residents are currently in place until April 21, but the government does not have a plan on how nor when to reopen the border.

“There’s no guarantee, there’s no promise— nothing,” Ashiru said. “People are living in limbo, that’s why people are so scared.”

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