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A Look at the Findings of a Parliamentary Report on COVID-19 and Immigration

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On 13 May 2021, a report was presented in Canada’s House of Commons detailing how Canadian immigration has been affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The report was prepared by the parliamentary committee on immigration and presented by committee Chair Salma Zahid. The report examined issues affecting Canada’s three immigration classes: family, economic, and refugee. It summarizes the findings of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, which were based on testimonies from immigrants, interest groups, lawyers, and other stakeholders. At least one member from every major political party sits on the committee. The committee’s mandate is to monitor federal policy on immigration and multiculturalism and oversee the immigration department and refugee board.

The report, titled “Immigration in the Time of COVID-19: Issues and Challenges”, elaborated on topics such as travel restrictions and family reunification, recommended 38 specific changes to existing policy. These are some of the committee’s recommendations:

  • Digitization of the immigration system was mentioned in six of the recommendations. One recommendation states outright that the entire immigration system should be digitized, with paper applications only utilized when necessary. Documents should be submitted online, and electronic signatures should be allowed whenever possible. Virtual interviews should be permissible as well. Another recommendation is for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to increase funding to groups and services so they can help individuals use digital tools and develop digital literacy. These recommendations are likely to be implemented in some form, as Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino has stated in the past that he supports further digitization of the current immigration system. As well, the Canadian government recently committed $430 million to aid in modernizing the existing system.  
  • Also addressed was the subject of international students. After temporarily stopping all international students from entering Canada, the borders were again opened to them in the fall of 2020. The recommendation was to continue allowing students from abroad to study in Canada. Also recommended was the establishment of a helpline for international students for any problems or questions regarding applications. There was also a recommendation to alter study permits to allow for international students to take on internships. The committee also calls for IRCC to consider if temporary residents with valid permits could receive federal settlement support.
  • One recommendation already implemented was the creation of a pathway to permanent residence for essential workers. On 6 May 2021 the federal government opened 6 new immigration streams for students and essential workers, both English and French-speaking. A total of 90,000 spaces were created in the three English language streams, with 40,000 specifically for international students. Though that stream received all of its allotment of applications in a little over one day, Minister Mendicino earlier told The Globe and Mail that he was “open to discussion” about reviewing the number of spaces after an assessment of the current applications. Of the 50,000 spaces for essential and health care workers, approximately 10,000 applications have been received.

Canada is on track to welcoming an increased number of immigrants in 2021 compared to 2020, with an estimated 70,000 welcomed in the first quarter of the year compared to the 30,000 to 40,000 per quarter since the beginning of the pandemic.

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