Canada’s immigration response to the Ukrainian migrant crisis

Friday 22 April 2022

Aleksandar Stojicevic
Maynard Kischer Stojicevic, Vancouver

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has resulted in millions of people fleeing Ukraine. The Canadian government has reacted to this with a series of measures aimed at assisting migrants to find safety in Canada. This approach is focused on getting migrants to Canada as quickly as possible, and is very much in line with the IBA Immigration & Nationality Committee’s advocated Emergency Evacuation visa model.

Broadly speaking, this model of migration resettlement in emergency situations features an emphasis on getting people in emergency situations to safety, then, once they are safe, offering them a full suite of settlement services and options as opposed to a more traditional, one-size-fits-all refugee protection model. Partnership with community organisations and the encouragement of the exercise of informed choice by the migrants themselves are fundamental principles of the approach.

The Canadian programme has been built on those fundamental principles. The programme was designed after extensive consultation with key stakeholders’ groups like the Canadian Bar Association, settlement service providers and community groups across Canada. Services have been designed to be offered at the time of arrival to newcomers, with processing of all applications as streamlined as possible.

These special measures were rolled out in near-record time and feature the issuance of special travel authorisations through a dedicated service channel, relaxing some of the normal visa requirements to show financial ties to the applicant’s home country. The expected service standard for processing is supposed to be 14 days and the usual $100 processing fee is waived.

Unlike applications for resettlement for refugees, there is no cap on the number of visa, work and study applications that will be accepted under these new measures.

Complementary programmes

The Canadian government has emphasised that its response is not designed to create a separate refugee immigration stream. There is an inherent recognition that some of the people that are applying for various programmes will not meet the definition of refugee protection within Canadian law and will want to go home if the war ends.

Instead, Canada’s approach is more focused on immediate safety and letting Ukrainians choose immigration options after they arrive in Canada. A new family sponsorship programme is also being rolled out.

Meanwhile, Canada’s independent refugee tribunal, the Immigration and Refugee Board, has made the processing of Ukrainian refugee claims a priority for those Ukrainians already in Canada who have made refugee claims. Accordingly, that option remains for those who feel they need a permanent solution and cannot see themselves going back to Ukraine.

Canada–Ukraine authorisation for emergency travel

Canada has created a new temporary resident pathway for Ukrainian nationals and their families called the Canada–Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET). This special pathway offers Ukrainians and their family members extended temporary resident status, with the ability to work, study and stay in Canada for up to three years.

Some of the most important features include:

  • access to an open work permit when applying for the CUAET (issued at the port of entry);
  • the right to study for children; and
  • a fee waiver for all Canadian immigration services.

Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has sent resources to Eastern Europe to facilitate processing, and has granted officers the ability to issue single journey travel documents as well as temporary resident permits to permit travel for those who have fled Ukraine without a passport or whose passport has expired.

Thus far, demand has been very high. As of 1 April, more than 80,000 applications had been processed.

Support for Ukrainians in Canada

Measures have been announced to support Ukrainians and their family members who already have temporary status in Canada. These include the ability to renew work and study permits free of charge, as well as apply for new work or study permits free of charge.

Settlement services for Ukrainians

Canada is offering temporary federal support to help Ukrainians settle in new communities in Canada until 31 March 2023. Those settlement services – normally only available to new permanent residents – now include all Ukrainian nationals. They include such services as:

  • language training;
  • information and services to help access the labour market, including mentoring, networking, counselling, skills development and training; and
  • access to settlement supports through hundreds of agencies focused on immigrant settlement across Canada.

The Canadian government has partnered with the Canadian Red Cross to provide arrival services at Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver international airports. This support includes providing translation services, as well as information in Ukrainian and Russian, to help connect Ukrainians with government and community services.

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