Suspension of non-essential visitor visa applications and processing clarifications re: COVID-19
On April 10, the government announced that due to the current travel restrictions implemented to tackle the spread of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Canada is suspending the processing of non-essential visitor visa applications. The suspension will allow Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to focus resources on critical services.
The authority for this suspension is provided by the Ministerial Instructions 37 (MI37): Ministerial Instructions with respect to the processing of certain new and existing applications for temporary residence. The suspension will run for 21 days from April 9, 2020 to April 29, 2020 and may be extended.
Below is a summary of the latest Ministerial Instructions, as well as IRCC's updated Program Delivery Instructions re: Temporary Residence and its guidelines regarding How the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is affecting temporary processing. A site with common questions about applying for a visitor visa or eTA was also recently published.
It is important to note that ALL applications for temporary residence visas and permits must be done online and paper applications will not be accepted at this time.
TRVs and eTAs
While applicants can continue to apply online for temporary resident visas (TRVs), only applicants who meet one of the travel exemption criteria and who are travelling for non-discretionary purpose will be processed. This includes both new applications and those whose applications are currently pending.
Applications submitted prior to the travel restrictions will be placed on hold and will not be processed unless the applicant contacts IRCC at IRCC.COVID-TravelExemptions-Exemptionsdevoyage-COVID.IRCC@cic.gc.c to indicate how they meet the exemption criteria and provide acceptable documentation.
Applicants can continue to submit eTA applications online, however, the manual processing of eTA applications (where required) will be paused. Applications that are selected for manual review will only be processed if the applicant meets the travel exemption criteria and is travelling for a non-discretionary purpose. These individuals have been directed to self-identify and submit documentation to show how they meet the exemption criteria through an IRCC web form submission.
Applicants outside Canada can continue to submit online work permit applications and these will continue to process, with a particular priority on essential services, such as those in the medical field and food supply chains.
Work permit applicants who are normally allowed to apply for their work permit at the port of entry as per subsection 198(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, will need to submit an online application. The reason for this is that the exemption to the travel restrictions for foreign nationals arriving from a country other than the U.S. only applies to holders of a work permit and persons approved for a work permit. As a result, to benefit from the exemption to the travel restriction when arriving from a country other than the U.S., the foreign national must have their letter of introduction beforehand if they are travelling by air.
Work permit applicants who are currently outside Canada must confirm that their employer is not subject to mandatory closure of non-essential businesses and will be able to start their employment after the 14-day isolation period before making any travel arrangements.
Workers should not proceed to Canada at this time if their employer is no longer offering them a job, due to current economic conditions or mandatory business closures, whether a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) was required or not. Where job offers are no longer valid, the foreign national may withdraw their work permit application and receive a refund if IRCC has not started processing their application.
Foreign nationals can also continue to submit applications to extend or to change conditions on their work permits from within Canada.
Work Permit Exemptions in Critical Occupations
Certain work permit-exempt foreign nationals are not subject to the travel restrictions and may be exempt from the mandatory 14-day self-isolation period if they are described in the Minimizing the Risk of Exposure to COVID-19 in Canada Order (Mandatory Isolation). These include:
Providers of emergency services under paragraph R186(t) for the protection or preservation of life or property (includes firefighters and medical service providers)
Persons permitted to work as a student in a health field under paragraph R186(p), including as a medical elective or clinical clerk at a medical teaching institution in Canada, for the primary purpose of acquiring training, if they have written approval from the body that regulates that field
Workers in the marine transportation sector who are essential for the movement of goods by vessel under paragraph R186(s)
Persons who seek to enter Canada for the purpose of delivering, maintaining, or repairing medically necessary equipment or devices under paragraph R186(a)
Persons who seek to enter Canada for the purpose of making medical deliveries of cells, blood and blood products, tissues, organs or other body parts that are required for patient care in Canada during or within a reasonable period of time after the expiry of the Order under paragraph R186(t)
When operationally possible, immigration officers are encouraged to prioritize these work permit exemption applications, as these occupations were identified as critical for health, safety and food security reasons.
The processing of new online study permits will continue, to the extent possible, in anticipation of the fall study term. Push notifications will be sent to all foreign nationals whose overseas study permit application was approved after March 18, 2020 (the effective date of the travel ban), with up-to-date instructions on when they can travel to Canada.
Foreign nationals can also continue to submit study permit extension applications from within Canada.
Andrew Carvajal is a Toronto lawyer, partner and Head of Economic Immigration at Desloges Law Group. He specializes in immigration law, administrative law and professional discipline litigation.