With vaccine development and distribution ramping up in much of the world – including Canada – there are glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel that has been the coronavirus pandemic. And a long tunnel it has been, upending life as we once knew it with unprecedented and massive challenges that affect newcomers, including but not limited to travel restrictions.
The Government of Canada deserves kudos for many of the steps it has taken in the meantime. Reciprocating one major act of kindness with another, it has announced a plan to grant permanent residence to the portion of asylum seekers – the so-called ‘guardian angels’ –who performed the difficult and dangerous work of caring for our most vulnerable in the early days of the pandemic.
Recognizing the importance of international students and graduates to Canada’s economy – and future – Canada has relaxed the requirements for study and Post-Graduation Work Permits (PGWP). For example, students can now start their programs online and still be able to obtain a PGWP, which was not the case before. Instead of reducing its immigration intake in the wake of COVID, Canada has decided that new and young talent is essential to recovery. Thus the federal government actually increased its immigration targets for the coming years.
However, I feel there is one key area where the government has not yet risen to the challenge. This is the issue of individuals who have been approved for permanent residence since mid-March 2020 but who, due to restrictions, have not yet been able to land in Canada.
When a person outside of Canada gets approved for permanent residence, they receive what is known as a Confirmation of Permanent Residence, or COPR. They then have a set period of time in which to come to Canada and turn the COPR into landing; a person only becomes a permanent resident when they arrive in Canada as such. To its credit, Canada allows people who received COPRs on or before March 18, 2020, or who received them after that time but who are coming from the United States, to still come to Canada. For those whose COPRs expired in the meantime, they can still come as long as they have an authorization letter from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
However, there are many people who received COPRs after March 18, 2020. These people are not able to come to Canada. This is despite the fact that many of them have wrapped up matters in their countries of origin – selling their homes or leaving their jobs in anticipation of new ones in Canada. So they are caught in limbo. Recall, none of us knew or expected how long the coronavirus pandemic would last.
It has now been more than a year since some of these people received their long-awaited approval to come to Canada. They are so close – yet so far – from achieving their dream. As a COPR’s validity typically does not last beyond one year, some post-March 18, 2020 holders have already had their documents expire, and others will soon. While the government has made undertakings that such people will be able to come to Canada at some point in the future, there is no apparent guarantee when. In the meantime, they are stuck metaphorically and literally, having suspended their old lives but not being able to begin their new ones or have an approximate sense of when.
This policy is causing untold heartache and anxiety. It is arbitrary, harmful, and inconsistent with the compassionate, pragmatic approach that Canada has taken in so many other areas of its immigration policy. I call upon the Government of Canada to waive the ban on post-March 18, 2020 recipients of COPRs from coming to Canada, while retaining the two-week quarantine rule. As Canada’s other initiatives have shown, it is possible to balance safety with welcoming people who not only pose no threat to Canada but who have a great deal to contribute to it. The Canadian immigration apparatus is strong enough – and the Canadian heart large enough – to allow it.
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