IRCC and Canada’s provinces continue working together to welcome Ukrainians

Edana Robitaille
Published: February 24, 2023

Today marks one year since the beginning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

UNHCR reports more than 7 million people in Ukraine have been displaced since February 2022. Many of them have fled to neighbouring countries such as Poland and Moldova, but others decide to go further abroad, including Canada.

What is Canada doing for displaced Ukrainians?

Canada has a long history of assisting refugees and other displaced people in times of crisis. For example, Canada resettled 25,000 Syrian refugees between November 2015 and February 2016 and has committed to assisting 40,000 Afghan refugees following the Taliban takeover. So far, the latest data from Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) says 28,285 Afghans have arrived in Canada under all immigration streams.

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Canada has taken a slightly different approach with displaced Ukrainians. Instead of bringing them over as refugees, they are more often arriving in Canada under the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET).

Under CUAET Ukrainians and their immediate family members of any nationality may stay in Canada as temporary residents for up to three years. There are no fees to apply for a visitor visa, and they may apply for an open work permit simultaneously, at no cost. However, all travel to Canada is self-funded which creates significant barriers for many Ukrainians. So far, Canada has approved 559,868 applications out of the 862,386 received and just over 167,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Canada.

Ukrainan Canadian Congress CEO Ihor Michalchyshyn spoke  to CIC News about IRCC's response to the Ukraine crisis.

"Its been a very adhoc but yet successful welcome thus far for most people," he says. He credits the success to the combination of the federal government income support, provincial governments with the housing, training and language supports and also community focus on integration and welcoming people.

Michalchyshyn says there still some challenges and ways in which IRCC could better assist Ukrainian newcomers.

"One of the challenges of course is data. It’s self funded travel and we don’t really know where people are going and when. It’s really relies on settlement agencies and volunteers sitting in airports trying to welcome people and find people. We're getting some data now about where people are registering for healthcare or income disbursement from the one-time income benefit. We need more data about where people are arriving and what their needs are. " 

He also says the temporary nature of the CUAET poses challenges for newcomers when it comes to accessing some government services.

The program is set to stop accepting applications on March 31 this year although several settlement services, as well as the UCC, petitioned the government to extend the date because there is no way to know when the conflict will end.

Other support measures

IRCC has priority processing for all CUAET applications, with a service standard of 14 days.

The federal government also offers a one-time non-taxable benefit of $3,000 each per adult and an additional $1,500 for each child under 17 for CUAET participants. This benefit program is set to expire on June 4, 2023.  Ukrainian newcomers do not receive any additional settlement funding beyond the benefit.

Support measures exist on a provincial level too. For example, Manitoba regularly invites candidates from Ukraine to apply for provincial nomination, which is highly beneficial for Ukrainians who wish to become permanent residents through an Express Entry program.

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British Columbia has cancelled the study health fee for students who are fleeing the war in Ukraine. The fee is $75 monthly for all individuals five and older enrolled in MSP (British Columbia’s healthcare program) with a study permit issued by IRCC. The province has also created a website to direct and assist newcomers from Ukraine when they first arrive.

Last August, New Brunswick introduced significantly reduced costs for recently arrived Ukrainian nationals who already have a valid Ukrainian driver's license. They can obtain a provincial passenger vehicle license for $90 and do not need to complete a test if they have more than two years of driving experience. They must still provide identification documents and submit to a vision test.

Ontario has a suite of support measures for Ukrainian newcomers such as:

  • Access to Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) coverage which includes health care support and services they may need, including mental health services.
  • Access to drug benefits for Ukrainians through OHIP eligibility or receiving emergency income assistance.
  • Access to emergency housing through settlement service agencies and Ukrainian community organizations, including host homes and other temporary settings that Ukrainians may need until long-term arrangements are made.
  • Ensuring Ukrainian elementary and secondary school students can attend publicly funded schools for free.

Several Canadian charitable organizations are also working to bring Ukrainians to Canada and help them settle. One of them, 4Ukraine.ca, reports that they have flown over 500 people to Canada, helped create over 1,000 resumes and have raised over $275,000 in aid.

What can Canadians do to support Ukrainian newcomers

Canada’s government says all Canadians can donate and volunteer to assist Ukrainians both in Canada and abroad. One way is to offer housing to newcomers. There are organizations in each province that will match volunteers with the housing needs of Ukrainian newcomers.

Employers using jobbank.ca can also indicate that they would like to hire a Ukrainian newcomer by following a few steps.

  • Register as an employer on Job Bank
  • Create a new job posting and save it as a draft.
  • Contact Job Bank and include the reference number of the job posting to let them know that you want to recruit Ukrainian nationals.

Michalchyshyn says some companies have been doing tremendous work. "They have really used the opportunity to fill temporary labour shortages with Ukrainians, and to work with them to build their language skills."

Language remains one of  the biggest obstacle many newcomers face when they arrive in Canada under CUAET alongside professional accreditation. "Generally I've heard good things except for in the medical field." says Michalchyshyn. "Those are a lot of the people who have broken down crying because they are doctors or nurses in Ukraine and here its just impossible for them to understand how to begin the process of recertifying."

Still, he says newcomers remain hopeful as they arrive in Canada

 "It’s been a year of resilience for Ukrainian people. As Canadians, we are committed to supporting Ukraine as a democracy against tyranny. Our main message is that we are just thankful at this point that we’ve had such a welcome for the people of the Ukraine." 

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