May 1, 2020

COVID-19 Processing Updates at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada

Posted by Athena Portokalidis - Bellissimo Law Group PC

We have been watching the world change in a myriad of ways in the last several weeks as governments and businesses across the globe try to respond to the COVID-19 global pandemic and control the spread of the virus. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has been providing several related updates in the last weeks to reflect internal changes made in response to the virus, a few of which are highlighted below.[1] Note that as IRCC is continuously providing updates and making changes to notices, while current as of the date of writing, the information below is subject to change given the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. 

The launch of the 2020 Parents and Grandparents Program (PGP), previously delayed to allow for updates to the program, has been deferred as efforts are prioritized to “contribute to the whole-of-government response to the pandemic.”[2] There is no indication yet of when the PGP will re-open to receive new expressions of interest to apply.

IRCC has suspended the processing of any non-essential visitor visa and eTA applications, to allow for IRCC to focus resources on critical services.[3] The processing of temporary foreign worker applications and study permits are expected to continue, with a particular focus on work permits for individuals in essential services such as medical fields and food supply chains.[4] Any workers, students or visitors that are exempt from the travel restrictions are required to apply online [5] with special instructions for individuals applying for visitor visas or eTAs.[6] Applicants that are required to give biometric information will be given 90 days to comply with a biometrics request, instead of the standard 30 days, as many visa application centres (VACs) that generally provide this service are closed given COVID-19.[7]

Finally, as of 22 April 2020, the government has temporarily removed the previous restriction that limited international students to work a maximum of 20 hours per week while classes are in session, provided “they are working in an essential service or function, such as health care, critical infrastructure, or the supply of food or other critical goods.”[8] The rationale is that given the COVID-19 outbreak, workers in specific industries have been “under considerable pressure” and international students already present in Canada are a great asset that can alleviate some of that pressure.[9] The Honourable Marco E.L. Mendicino, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, stated as follows: “Immigrants, temporary foreign workers and international students are making important contributions as frontline workers in health care and other essential service sectors. We know and value their efforts and sacrifices to keep Canadians healthy and ensure the delivery of critical goods and services.”[10]

While we take each day as it comes in these uncertain times, it is excellent to see IRCC offering some relief not only to immigration applicants but also to those on the frontlines working tirelessly for the health and safety of us all.