January 26, 2021

Canadian Immigration Modernization Must Breed Revolutionary Changes

Posted by Mario Bellissimo - Bellissimo Law Group PC

A recent CBC News story I was interviewed for reads, in part:

. . .  there are thousands who are forced to leave Canada while waiting to secure their status, who not able to enter the country even though they have it, or others who are in limbo.

“That’s happening on a daily basis,” he said. “We’ve had to come up with a lot of innovative solutions for clients to try to either keep them in status or restore their status.”

“You’re dealing with people that have to deliver critical work, heartbreaking family reunification issues. It’s a challenge,” he said.[1]

Let’s expand on these thoughts.    

1.A number of travel requirements/restrictions are currently in place: As of January 7, 2021 – travelers 5 years of age or older – must present a negative Covid-19 test at the airport;[2]

2. There is a fourteen-day mandatory quarantine after entering Canada [3]

3. Foreign nationals who received their confirmation of permanent residence (COPR)

a. If COPR issued before March 18, 2020, but it expired – Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is asking those people NOT to contact them via Web;

i. IRCC will contact these foreign nationals and ask them if they are able to travel to Canada NOW, to live and settle;

ii. IRCC will then re-issue the COPR to be valid.[4]

b. If the COPR was issued after March 18, 2020 – and the foreign national is an immediate family member (spouse, children) – they are exempt from the current travel restrictions and may enter the country if they are able to demonstrate that:

i. They will live /settle in Canada; and

ii. They have a quarantine plan.[5]

4. For migrants already living in Canada – in-person landing appointments were cancelled as of 15 March 2020. These appointments are now being conducted virtually. IRCC contacts the person via email to provide further information on how to land;[6]

There have also been a number of changes with respect to biometric requirements:

  1. No biometrics are required if the foreign national has provided them within the last ten years;
  2. For those who have not provided biometrics in the past 10 years, the timeline to provide same for those in countries where the centres for biometrics are closed has been extended until the sites begin offering collection services again; and
  3. Biometrics are now fee exempt – if paid, the fee will be refunded when application is finalized.[7]

These initiatives, along with other measures also effective January 7th, 2021[8], are exceptional steps during an exceptional time.  Some would argue well beyond modernization and edging into revolutionary.

Perhaps surprisingly this is not enough.


Well, in the first months, like much of the world IRCC, was in a state of transition with a number of office closures, resulting in delays. As more staff transitioned to remote work, processing of permanent resident applications resumed, as did study permits and even visitor visas (those not subject to restrictions), albeit at a slower pace.  

Students were affected in the sense that they had to postpone registration for their programs, and many foreign nationals who were graduating had to re-schedule their commencement day to spring/autumn 2021. 

There may be more delays. The landing of foreign nationals who have expired COPRs visas is still moving quite slowly.[9]  We are down at least 30% in targeted admissions.[10]  What more can be done?  Is there anything IRCC could implement that would help?

Yes, the modernization must continue bordering on revolutionary when eventually looking back to how we processed migrants before.  I preface my comments by stating this is an incredibly complex and multi-layered issue during an incredibly challenging and rapidly evolving time.  Further, at this stage there may be more questions than proposed solutions.  However, it is helpful to circulate ideas and build from there.    

  1. The usual call: first, allot additional resources to IRCC to contact people who already have received their COPR or expired COPR and who have the intention to come and settle (not leave Canada after becoming a PR).
  2. End paper-based applications (with limited exceptions for those with special needs – like spousal /parental sponsorships) and move to online applications. This would allow IRCC to avoid the paperwork, the need for staff to attend offices and manage the paper applications.
  3. Fingerprints / biometrics should be processed at the border – yes more resources would be required, but ultimately this would ensure a potentially faster and more secure process.  To do so though, this information must be stored electronically and presented at the border.
  4. Also, we can look to winding down Visa Application Centres and again move to digital. Please see our article in Immquest on the 50 Proposed Improvements to Canada’s Immigration Process.[11]
  5. Pursue an Electronic Database for Policy Publication.  The centralization of information on application processing into one database would be helpful. It may entail the following features:
    1. Managed by the department for up-to-date changes
    2. Subscription- run
    3. Including relevant Acts, Regulations, Directions, Gazette Notices, legislative and non-legislative instruments, forms and importantly the relevant internal policy (disclosable)
    4. Tracking updates and access to historical legislative frameworks. User-friendly database (effective search facility and hyperlinks connecting relevant information/ legislation)

The Australian Immigration system currently uses a similar database entitled Legend.com. We understand from counsel that have worked in that system that this database is a significant tool that supports counsel in the preparation and submission of applications, as it provides a consolidated and centralized source of all up to date of all policy, legislation and relevant case law.

Some of these suggestions may help with the emergent issues COVID-19 has presented.  However, the solutions not unsurprisingly do not solely rest within the sphere of immigration processing improvements.  From a recent CBC story:

Bellissimo says the federal government has taken a lot of steps to help with the flow of migration during the pandemic, but there is still a challenge when it comes to modernizing health services linked to immigration. 

He mentions being able to have digital health documents on a phone, as an example.

“Until they can really sync the two, there’s ongoing challenges,” he said.[12]

In my next blog, we will explore some of the medical or health related processing issues. Please also see Jessica Templeman’s blog on questions raised by the COVID-19 pandemic for determinations of medical inadmissibility.

Clearly, the immigration system continues to evolve in important ways. COVID-19 has made our limitations especially clear. Now is the time to continue to boldly act in moving forward. 

To view the full CBC story, please see below: