Canada hits pause button on immigration during pandemic

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) partnered with the Ottawa Senators in a special citizenship ceremony, where 20 families from 20 countries became Canadian citizens ahead of the hockey game between the Senators and the visiting Calgary Flames. Eleven-year-old Ahmed Mohammed holds his hand up while taking the oath during the ceremony Saturday Jan. 18, 2020. (Ashley Fraser/Postmedia Network)

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Immigration is on hold in Canada, for the time being, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

A federal government official confirms the immigration program is suspended while travel restrictions remain in place, but some wonder whether we might need to keep the program on pause a little longer.

The Trudeau government had set targets of 341,000 permanent residents in 2020 followed by increases to 351,000 in 2021 and 361,000 in 2022.

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“Currently, only Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family are allowed to board flights to Canada or to enter through the Canada-US border,” said Kevin Lemkay, press secretary for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino.

“Despite the current travel restrictions, IRCC continues to accept and process applications,” Lemkay said.

During the period where travel is restricted the department says that no application in progress will be closed or refused due to a lack of documentation. Those applications will remain open even if normal timelines for submitting biometrics or a medical exam are not met.

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The question now is how quickly immigration will resume after travel restrictions are lifted.

Conservative Immigration Critic Peter Kent, himself a naturalized Canadian, supports the government’s current move but wonders if immigration should be kept on pause if unemployment levels rise as high as expected.

In the last two weeks more than one million Canadians have applied for employment insurance and the government expects as many as 4 million people to apply for emergency benefits in coming weeks. A report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates unemployment could hit 15% this year, triple what it was before the crisis.

“We don’t know what we will be able to do to redirect the unemployed coming out of the crisis,” Kent said.

Kent emphasized that he fully supports immigration as an economic benefit for Canada but said we will be dealing with a crippled economy and much higher than normal unemployment for some time after the crisis.

“We need a lot more people but right now, we need to pause,” Kent said.

blilley@postmedia.com

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