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Immigration Update

Express Entry Update

On August 19th and August 20th 2020, Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) issued two new rounds of invitations to apply for permanent residence, under the Provincial Nominee Program and the Canadian Experience Class.

Provincial Nominee Program

On August 19th 2020, 600 candidates were invited to apply under the Provincial Nominee Program. The minimum score selected in this draw was 771. To qualify, candidates must have received a certificate of nomination from a Canadian province or territory.

Canadian Experience Class

On August 20th 2020, 3,300 candidates were invited to apply under the Canadian Experience Class. The minimum score selected was 454. To qualify for selection under the Canadian Experience Class, candidates must have at least one year of skilled work in Canada within the past three years and must meet minimum language proficiency requirements.

As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, in March 2020 IRCC began to exclude Federal Skilled Worker candidates from the Express Entry draws, focusing instead on inviting candidates who are already likely to be in Canada. On July 8th 2020, we saw the first draw to include Federal Skilled Worker candidates again since March. A second draw for Federal Skilled Worker candidates was held on August 5th 2020, however Federal Skilled Worker Candidates were excluded from this week’s draw. As IRCC continues to periodically hold draws specific to only Canadian Experience Class candidates, this remains a good time for candidates who meet the Canadian Experience Class criteria to apply for permanent residence.

Canada Cuts International Students a Temporary Break

On July 20, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced temporary policy changes to the international student program in the context of COVID-19.

These measures include: providing clarity on international students’ ability to enter Canada during the border closure; eligibility for part-time students to engage in off-campus work; and special measures relating to post-graduate work permit eligibility.

Students entering for non-discretionary purposes

Canada’s borders are currently closed for any discretionary or optional travel. With respect to foreign students, this has created uncertainty for both border officers as well as students abroad who are unsure if their studies are considered discretionary or optional under the law.

In its policy update, IRCC provided guidelines by which officers will determine if foreign student’s travel should be considered non-discretionary. Foreign students who are established, residing and studying in Canada are non-discretionary travellers and are permitted to return to Canada. Further considerations regarding non-discretionary entry assessments include: whether they are expected to begin studying upon arrival after completing their quarantine; whether their presence in Canada is necessary for their continued participation in the program; whether pursuing online studies remotely is not feasible; or whether the semester has been cancelled or deferred.

These measures provide welcome clarification for students who may have departed Canada over the summer academic break but must now return to Canada while the border closure is still in effect. For students who are scheduled to commence their studies in Canada in the fall semester, these guidelines indicate that they will likely need to demonstrate that in-person class attendance is required in order to enter Canada.

Part-time students temporarily permitted to work off-campus

Under normal circumstances, part-time international students are not eligible to engage in any off­-campus employment. If foreign students have been forced to reduce their course load to part-time status or take a break in their studies due to COVID-19, IRCC has announced that these students are temporarily authorized to continue to work on or off campus. These students continue to be subject to the authorized number of hours they would have been permitted to work as a full-time student. These expanded measures will allow students to have greater financial resources at their disposal as well as reduce levels of unemployment.

Post-graduation work permit eligibility

Ordinarily, students who complete more than 50 per cent of their program of study by online distance learning are not eligible for a post-graduation work permit. However, due to COVID-19, many schools are instituting mandatory online classes in order to reduce the spread of the virus. While these measures may be prudent from a public health perspective, many international students intend to apply for a post-graduation work permit in order to secure full-time employment after graduation, which would allow them to gain valuable Canadian work experience. By shifting courses to a mandatory online format, international students are effectively penalized for a decision that was outside of their control, even though the decision was likely in the interests of public health.

In order to address this issue, IRCC has announced a temporary reprieve for students whose schools require that they engage in distance learning. Students who were already studying in Canada and whose classes were moved online due to COVID-19 will not be penalized with regard to post­-graduate work permit eligibility. For study permit holders or approved study permit applicants outside of Canada who are not able to enter Canada due to travel restrictions, IRCC has announced that these students will remain eligible for a post-graduate work permit if at least 50 per cent of their total program of study is completed inside Canada. Normally, any distance-learning courses completed while outside of Canada would be excluded from the time accumulated toward the length of the post-graduation work permit.

IRCC has also lifted restrictions relating to part-time students’ post-graduation work permit eligibility. Normally, international students must be enrolled on a full-time basis during each academic session in order to be eligible for a post-graduation work permit. For students whose programs were put on hold or were shifted to part-time studies in the winter, spring or summer 2020 semesters, their future eligibility for a post-graduation work permit will not be affected.

The above measures highlight the Canadian government’s commitment to supporting international students, who provide substantial cultural, social and economic contributions to Canada. During these stressful times, these temporary policy changes will provide students with more certainty regarding their ability to enter and financially support themselves in Canada, as well as their ability to engage in online courses without fearing that they are jeopardizing their long-term goals.

This article was published in The Lawyer’s Daily and can be accessed here.

Biometrics Temporarily No Longer Required for Temporary Residence Applicants Physically in Canada

In recent years, Canada has expanded its biometrics collection requirements as a way to help improve the integrity of the country’s immigration system, prevent identity fraud, and bring Canada’s immigration security practices in line with those of its international partners. As of December 2019, nearly all foreign nationals applying for temporary or permanent residence, including individuals who have already entered Canada, have been required to provide their biometric information (fingerprints and photograph) at a Visa Application Centre, US Application Support Center, or in-Canada Service Canada office in order for their immigration applications to be processed. With hundreds of these biometrics collection points across the world, providing biometrics has proved to be a reasonably simple and convenient process for most foreign nationals under normal circumstances.

Unfortunately, one of the actions necessitated by Canada’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was the closure of all Service Canada locations, which has made it impossible for all foreign nationals in Canada to provide their biometrics since March 18, 2020. Canada’s initial response to this was to provide a 60-day extension to the ordinarily 30-day period in which applicants were required to provide biometrics, but as the pandemic has dragged on, it has become clear that Service Canada offices will not be able to resume biometrics collection services in the near future.

Recognizing that being unable to provide biometrics from within Canada would make it impossible for foreign nationals in Canada to have any immigration applications processed, Canada has now put in place a public policy exempting all temporary residence applicants who are physically in Canada from having to provide biometrics. In other words, a foreign national already in Canada that has applied for or will be applying for a work permit, study permit, visitor visa or record, temporary resident permit, or the renewal or restoration of any of these documents will have their application fully processed without the need to provide biometrics. Notably this exemption does not apply to permanent residence applicants, although Canada has indicated it is exploring potential options to facilitate the processing of permanent residence applications given these service disruptions.

Since only foreign nationals already physically in Canada are affected by this public policy, it is unlikely to lead to any additional security risk as these foreign nationals would have already had to complete all applicable security screenings before being able to enter Canada. Foreign nationals outside of Canada will still be required to provide biometrics before their applications can be processed, regardless of whether biometrics collection points are open in their country of residence.

For foreign nationals in Canada with immigration applications in limbo because of the closure of Canadian biometrics collection points, this public policy provides much needed relief and the certainty that they will be able to continue onward with their plans of working, studying, or residing in Canada.