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The Top 5 Canadian Immigration Stories of 2020

2020 was a good year.

The coronavirus pandemic has had devastating effects around the world, but there is much to be hoped for.

Numerous coronavirus vaccines have been developed and vaccination campaigns are running around the world, including here in Canada.

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The start of the year was largely uneventful for Canada’s immigration system. After a federal election at the end of 2019, the Canadian government had a new mandate and a new immigration minister. The government’s immigration mandate letter and official political statements did not reveal any major changes. Canada would continue to welcome large numbers of immigrants, international students, and overseas workers to support a strong economy and society.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Below is an overview of the 5 Canadian Immigration Stories from CIC News in 2020.

5. Canada exempts large families from travel restrictions

On October 2, just a week before the country’s Thanksgiving weekend, the Canadian government announced new major exemptions to its coronavirus travel restrictions. In his remarks on the day, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino admitted that the travel restrictions on families in Canada are tough, so the government relaxed its rules to allow extended family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents to enter the country.

Until then, the only family members exempt from travel regulations were immediate family members (spouse, domestic partner, dependent children, grandchildren, parents or stepparents, and guardians or tutors of Canadian citizens and permanent residents).

The October 2 announcement allowed for a more open definition of family that now includes individuals in an exclusive and long-term relationship and their dependent children, non-dependent children, grandchildren, siblings, half and step siblings, and grandparents.

Needless to say, the extended family exception brought significant relief to Canadians who have not been able to see their loved ones since the pandemic began.

4. International students will be accommodated

The October 2 announcement also exempted more international students from travel restrictions. However, Canada had gradually introduced a number of key accommodations for international students during the pandemic.

As of this announcement, only a few international students have been able to enter Canada, namely those who were in possession of a study permit at the time the travel restrictions went into effect. However, this was lifted in October, allowing more study permit holders enrolled in Canadian colleges and universities with coronavirus preparedness plans to enter the country as well.

Arguably the largest accommodation, however, was announced by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) on May 14th and has proven to be the most read CIC News story of 2020. IRCC stated that international students could complete their studies at Canadian colleges and universities by December 31, 2020 if they were abroad and that study does not affect eligibility for a Postgradual Work Permit (PGWP).

The IRCC had previously announced a relaxation of its PGWP rules, but only for a limited period of time. By extending it until the end of the year, the IRCC strongly encouraged international students to continue their Canadian studies during the pandemic. Before the changes, online studies could not count towards PGWP eligibility.

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The reason PGWP housing is so important is because the vast majority of international students want to move to permanent Canada residence. Often they need to gain Canadian work experience here after completing their studies in order to be eligible for Canadian immigration. The PGWP has proven to be the cornerstone of this effort and is by far the most popular work permit option in Canada today. The PGWP enables international students to gain the work experience they need to stay permanently and ultimately make the transition to becoming the Canadian citizens of tomorrow.

Without the IRCC accommodations, many international students would likely have either given up or delayed their studies in Canada, which would have hurt Canada’s economy even more. Instead, the changes to the IRCC gave students the green light to begin their studies online and still reap the benefits of the PGWP.

Since then, the IRCC has again extended its PGWP eligibility period to April 30, 2021.

3. Express entry records are destroyed

Most Canadian immigrants are welcomed as business class skilled workers, and express entry is the primary method that Canada uses to manage skilled worker applications.

Prior to the pandemic, express entry draws were held roughly every two weeks, usually on Wednesdays, with between 3,000 and 4,000 successful candidates receiving immigration invitations in each drawing.

Canada’s announcement of travel restrictions on March 16, 2020 created uncertainty about express entry. It was not known whether the draw will continue and whether candidates from abroad will be considered.

On Wednesday, March 18, the regular draw for the express submission took place, but only the candidates of the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) were considered at that time. In another rarity, just a few days later on Monday, March 23, IRCC held another drawing in which only candidates from the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) were considered.

The Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) candidates make up the lion’s share of successful express entry immigrants, but they sat with concern for the months that followed as the IRCC only invited PNP and CEC candidates.

Finally, on July 8th, the FSWP candidates again took part in an express entry draw and the IRCC has been holding onto “all-program draws” since September 2nd.

The biggest express entry story of the year is the sheer size of the draw sizes. To compensate for lower immigration to Canada this year, the IRCC is running the largest express entry draws since the system was launched in 2015, with 5,000 invitations per draw and Express Entry surpassing 100,000 invitations in a year for the first time.

This is good news for anyone looking to apply for immigration to Canada as a skilled worker in 2021 and beyond.

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2. Immigration plan 2021-2023

The announcement of the Immigration Levels Plan is usually the most important of the year as it outlines the number of newcomers Canada wishes to accept and the goals among their respective economic, family and refugee classes. In recent years, the announcement has been quite disappointing as the federal government has been working towards accepting over 300,000 new immigrants per year.

Given that Express Entry and the entire immigration system have continued to operate since the beginning of the pandemic, it was widely expected that the 2021-2023 immigration plan would also prove anti-climatic.

In a dramatic turn, however, Minister Marco Mendicino announced on October 30 that Canada would embark on the most ambitious immigration plan in its history.

Starting in 2021, Canada will seek the arrival of over 400,000 new permanent residents each year. Canada achieved this goal only once in its history in 1913.

The 400,000 figure is set to offset lower immigration to Canada during the pandemic and also aid Canada’s economic recovery from the coronavirus.

However, the announcement has been discussed in Canadian history classes and in political contexts well beyond the pandemic for decades and centuries. It marks the beginning of a new era in Canadian immigration and will have a significant economic and social impact on the country and its people.

Keep in mind that an immigration destination of over 400,000 could make Canada a nation of 100 million by 2100, making it one of the most populous and perhaps influential countries in the world. Canada currently has a population of 38 million, which means it ranks 39th in the world in terms of population. A Canada with 100 million people in 2100 could turn out to be one of the 20 most populous countries.

1. Canada closes the border

On the morning of March 16, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stepped up to a podium in front of his home and announced to a national audience that Canada would close its borders from March 18.

This was a surreal moment.

Trudeau, Mendicino and the rest of the Canadian government proudly emphasized Canada’s openness to global talent. Since taking office in November 2015, Trudeau and his colleagues have launched major initiatives to welcome refugees from Syria and other parts of the world in need, while bringing families together and welcoming more talent than immigrants, foreign workers and students.

In fact, just four days before Trudeau’s speech, Mendicino announced Canada’s 2020-2022 immigration plan.

Trudeau’s dramatic speech brought the coronavirus pandemic closer to Canadian prospective immigrants and those overseas looking to come to Canada. It also showed how fluid the pandemic was. The government failed to realize the gravity of the situation days earlier until public health experts stressed the importance of closing borders to contain the spread of COVID-19, which apparently undermines the plan for 2020-2022 levels.

The introduction of travel restrictions will have an impact on Canada’s immigration system in the years to come as the IRCC needs time to process the application backlog caused by the pandemic and modernize its systems to allow applications to be processed faster after the pandemic okay is behind us.

Even if the pandemic will have a lasting impact on the immigration system, it has not changed the rationale for Canada’s immigration policy. As Stories # 2-5 show, Canada continues to be committed to attracting global talent to support a strong economy and society.

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