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COVID-19: Practical Impacts on Foreign Nationals In Canada

Recently, news outlets have focused their coverage on the drastic travel restrictions implemented by the Canadian government in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. These border closures are intended to limit the number of foreign nationals entering Canada that could introduce the virus to new populations within Canada. There have also been significant measures taken within Canada to encourage social distancing, resulting in the closure of many Canadian businesses and schools.

While it has been difficult for Canadian citizens to adjust to this new reality, these measures have had a greater impact on temporary residents who are already in Canada. These changes may directly affect their ability to remain in Canada in the future.

1. Foreign Workers Under Closed Work Permits

Widespread layoffs are a new economic reality, and while all those who are laid off are concerned about their financial resources, the ability of a foreign worker to find a new source of employment is limited. In addition to the difficulties they may face in the current job market, individuals who hold LMIA-based or LMIA-exempt (closed) work permits may only work in Canada for a specific employer, in a specific position, and in a specific location of work. Any other work in Canada that does not meet the conditions set out in the work permit is considered “unauthorized” and could result in deportation from Canada.

If a foreign worker is able to find a new position, they must first obtain a new work permit for that specific employer, position and location of work before commencing their employment. Assuming their new employer is willing to support a new work permit application, current processing times for work permit applications within Canada are about four months, and these processing times are likely to increase as a result of this crisis. This is a long wait for those who suddenly find themselves unemployed. The restrictive nature of closed work permits is a financial hardship that uniquely impacts foreign workers over and above Canadian citizens and permanent residents in the context of COVID-19.

2. Foreign Workers Under Open Work Permits

Open work permit holders do not have the same restrictions on their work permits, and therefore have more flexibility to change employers. However, in the event of a layoff, certain open work permit holders may find unexpected roadblocks for their plans to eventually achieve permanent residence. For example, some classes of permanent residence in Canada require a minimum amount of work experience in Canada. As a result, an open work permit holder may be unable to obtain this experience in Canada under their current work permit if there is a disruption in their employment, and they will require a work permit extension in order to gain this experience. Depending on the category of open work permit, extensions may or may not be possible. Some permanent residence classes also require that the applicant have a continuous full-time job offer in place in order to meet eligibility criteria. The recent economic downturn and employee layoffs may throw a wrench in even the best laid plans of temporary residents.

3. Foreign Workers Under Implied Status

For those foreign workers who have applied to extend their worker status before their work permit expired, they may not be eligible for provincial health coverage until they receive their new work permits. This is a particularly pressing concern in light of the pandemic. Private health insurers may also not provide coverage for COVID-19 cases, depending on the policy.

4. International Students

The ability of international students to study and work in Canada are also affected as a result of widespread closure of post-secondary institutions. These students will likely be required to extend their study permits in order to ensure they can complete the requirements of their study program once schools re-open. In addition, in order to maintain the validity of their study permits, international students must be enrolled in school and actively pursuing their studies. In the event that distance learning options are not provided and the school is closed, students are given 150 days from the date the school closed to transition to a new program, change their status, or leave Canada.

Regarding an international student’s ability to work in Canada, during any leave from studies, including school closures, study permit holders cannot work on or off campus because they are not considered to be full-time students are not on a regularly scheduled break. If the school remains open and is conducting classes remotely, students are still not permitted to work off-campus more than 20 hours per week unless it is during a regularly scheduled break. It is not clear how eligibility for post-graduate work permits may be impacted by mandatory distance-learning in the context of COVID-19. The Canadian government may issue guidelines in the future in order to address the hardship that these restrictions place on international students.

5. Visitors in Canada

There are likely a number of visitors to Canada who did not anticipate staying in Canada long-term. However, with the limited options for air travel due to cancellations of flights, many visitors will find themselves requiring an extension of their visitor status. Currently, all visitors are required to ensure that they remain in valid status in Canada. The inability to return home due to COVID-19 measures will not justify a failure to extend temporary resident status, and allowing status to expire could result in removal from Canada. It is therefore incumbent upon every visitor in Canada who cannot return home to ensure that they apply to extend their visitor status from within Canada before their current status expires. If a temporary resident’s status has expired, there are options for restoring that status, provided an application is submitted within 90 days of the expiration of status.

For any temporary residents in Canada who are experiencing issues with their immigration status as a result of COVID-19, there may be a number of options available to remediate issues or reduce hardship on foreign workers or international students.

For more information, please contact our office here.

This article on COVID-19 and foreign nationals in Canada was published today in The Lawyer’s Daily. Here is the link.