Canadian immigration update: The impact of COVID-19

17 March 2020

The novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the response to it is affecting all facets of society, including international mobility and business travel.  Canadian employers hiring or engaging foreign workers or service providers in Canada, or who have employees who may need to travel internationally, need to be aware of the immigration and travel implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have set out below some key considerations, including a section on tips for employers.



Travel into Canada

On March 16, Canada announced that it will close its borders to most inbound travel

There are a number of exemptions.  Note also that these exemptions have not yet been fully clarified so readers should review the latest developments.

Information regarding travel by air is available at Transport Canada's website.

Highlights include:

  • Airlines are to prevent any passenger (including Canadian citizens) with COVID-19 symptoms from boarding a flight to Canada.
  • Travelers arriving from international locations must self-isolate for 14 days.
  • Effective March 18, most international flights will be permitted to land at 4 airports: Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver to allow for enhanced screening. Domestic flights, as well as flights from the United States, and sun destinations such as Mexico and the Caribbean are not affected by this measure and will continue to operate on their regular routes.
  • Effective March 18 at 12:00 pm (noon) EDT, airlines are to deny boarding to any passenger who is not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, and who has resided in any country other than the U.S. in the last 14 days. 

Per Transport Canada: "you cannot board a plane to Canada if you have been outside of Canada or the United States in the last 14 days, unless you are a Canadian Citizen, Canadian Permanent Resident or in transit to a 3rd country."

Exceptions to include immediate family members of Canadian citizens, diplomats, crew and other necessary essential service providers.

U.S. citizens are currently exempt as well. Therefore, it would appear that U.S. citizens can still, as of March 16, apply for a Canadian work permit at a Canadian part of entry.

Any foreign nationals who are outside Canada and who hold work permits or study permits should return  to Canada as soon as possible, and before 12 noon on March 18, or it appears that they will be unable to enter Canada (unless the situation is further clarified to confirm that work permit or study permit holders are exempt from the travel ban).

International Business Travel for Canadian-based Employees

Countries around the globe have been announcing various travel bans, border closings and lockdowns in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19.

The Canadian government initially advised Canadians not to engage in any non-essential international travel. On March 14th it recommended that any Canadians outside of Canada should return to Canada while commercial flights are still available.  Travelers arriving in Canada from international destinations were asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

The cancellation of flights and the potential closing of borders may impede the ability of Canadians abroad to return to Canada.

Then on March 16, the Prime Minister confirmed that Canada's borders would be closing on March 18, with a few exceptions (more details below, but full details are not available as of March 16).

Travel advice and information from the Canadian government should be reviewed for the latest updates.

The United States is the number one destination for Canadian business travel.   As of March 16, travel from Canada to the United States is allowed and has not been banned by the United States.  However, this could change at any time.

The United States has banned travel from a number of countries, including China, Iran, and Europe (including the United Kingdom and Ireland as of March 16).  Please refer to Gowling WLG's U.S. Immigration Update article for further details.  Further information and updates on travel to the U.S. and the U.S. response may be found at this U.S. Department of Homeland Security website.

In the circumstances, travel outside of Canada for business purposes should be postponed.  Those outside of Canada who are eligible and able to return to Canada under should do so as soon as possible.    

Foreign Nationals and Canadian Immigration Applications

Companies that are in the process of obtaining a Canadian work permit for a foreign national candidate, or supporting a business visitor's entry visa application can expect delays in processing.  Foreign business visitors with approved entry visas or candidates with approved work permit applications but who are still outside of Canada may face travel restrictions and so may be unable to travel to Canada in the current environment.

IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) has introduced special rules to address some of the processing implications caused by the COVID-19 situation.

IRCC has also announced changes to some processes, such as announcing that citizenship ceremonies in Canada are being postponed indefinitely, and cancelling landing interviews for PR applicants.

IRCC's COVID-19 related Program Delivery instructions were updated on March 15.  They state that:

"Applications will not be refused for non-compliance, and all applications currently in progress at IRCC offices abroad, at case processing centres and within the Domestic Network will continue to be processed but may experience delays."

Specific measures have been set out by IRCC to address situations where the applicant is a citizen or resident of China, Iran or South Korea, and where the applicant is affected by service disruptions or travel restrictions related to COVID-19. 

In those countries, the VAC locations (Visa Application Centres List from IRCC) may have been closed due to the COVID-19 situation and therefore it is not possible for foreign nationals in those countries to obtain biometrics.  Providing biometrics is a requirement of any temporary resident visa (TRV) or work permit application filed online.  After the application is filed, a biometrics request letter is issued by IRCC and the applicant must attend at a VAC location to provide biometrics.  Biometrics letters will still be issued and will still state a 30 day deadline, but per the special guideline from IRCC, applicants from those countries will have 90 days to provide biometrics.  Where urgent travel for temporary residence applicants in China, Iran and South Korea is needed, a Program Manager may waive the usual biometrics requirement for urgent or humanitarian reasons.

It remains to be seen whether these special rules will be expanded to cover residents of other countries (beyond China, Iran and Korea) who may be affected by service or travel disruptions due to COVID-19. 

Foreign nationals inside Canada as business visitors should review whether they need to extend their temporary resident status before it expires.  Work permit holders should also review the expiry date of their work permits to see if an extension is needed, or if a change to visitor status should be considered if the work permit cannot be extended.

For further details on IRCC's special guidelines, please refer to the following:

Program Delivery Update - General Processing Measures and COVID-19

IRCC's Special Rules to help Temporary and Permanent Residents affected by COVID-19

Tips for Employers

Canadian employers are dealing with a myriad of issues stemming from the COVID-19 situation.

Regarding corporate immigration matters, and its impact on international mobility and the employment of foreign nationals in Canada, here are a number of considerations for employers:

  • The Canadian government is recommending that Canadians not travel on business outside of Canada and has effectively closed its borders to most non-Canadians.  Business travel outside of Canada should be postponed.
  • Canadian work permit applications for foreign hires can still be filed, but there may be a delay in processing, especially where the candidate is residing in a country that is facing significant internal disruptions. 
  • With the March 16 ban on entry to Canada, foreign nationals with visa office work permit approvals or who were planning to travel to Canada to apply for a work permit at the port of entry will not be able to proceed to travel to Canada until further notice.  Note that Americans are exempt from the restrictions (as of March 16 but that could change) and so it appears that American may be able to apply for a work permit at the port of entry.
  • For employers with foreign national work permit holders in Canada, we would recommend that extension applications be filed earlier than usual, as processing times for online extensions will very likely increase (they are currently listed as taking 90 days).  These extensions are filed online and are processed in Canada.

While foreign nationals who file work permit extensions in a timely manner can go into implied status and continue working while waiting for the adjudication of the extension application, note that provincial health coverage may be negatively affected depending on provincial rules regarding coverage.  This is another reason to apply early for any renewal.

  • Employers should consider transitioning eligible work permit holders to permanent resident status. This will put the foreign national's status in Canada on a firmer footing. It will also end the employer IRPA compliance requirements that employers face while the foreign worker is in Canada on an employer-specific work permit.
  • Keep informed as sudden changes to processing rules, guidelines and immigration protocols are likely.
  • Employers that have foreign nationals working in Canada under employer-specific work permits need to remain cognizant of the compliance requirements placed on them by IRPA. This includes the requirement to provide each foreign worker with wages and working conditions that are substantially the same as, but not less favourable than, those that the employer provided to Canadian authorities when the LMIA or work permit was obtained.  If an employer's response to COVID-19 potentially requires changes to wages or working conditions, seek immigration and employment law advice before implementing such changes.

For Further Information

Updates and information from IRCC on immigration and entry matters may be found at the following sources:

The main federal government websites on COVID-19 and travel are here:

Conclusion

Given of the extreme fluidity of the COVID-19 situation and the likelihood that government policies around international travel and immigration procedures will continue to evolve, you should contact one of the members of Gowling WLG's Immigration Group to obtain legal advice for any specific matters. 

We note that readers of this article should also always review trusted government website sources to ensure that they obtain the most up-to-date information, as we expect policies and procedures will change without notice. 


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