Canada rolls out measures to help international students stay — and work — in this country

Source: 
The Toronto Star

By Nicholas Keung Immigration Reporter

Tue., Aug. 2, 2022

After weeks of delays, Canada is rolling out interim measures to allow international students who have been left in a kind of immigration limbo due to pandemic backlogs to stay and work legally in this country.

Starting Monday, the immigration department will email individuals whose work permits have expired, or will be expiring, between Sept. 20, 2021 and Dec. 31, 2022.

The department will get them proof that they are still authorized to work in this country, which they can then show employers.

Due to skyrocketing backlogs during the COVID-19 pandemic, officials suspended the intake of some skilled immigration programs until last month.

It has left many skilled international students — who would otherwise have been able to apply for permanent residence — with no status and expired work permits.

An estimated 93,000 people had their postgraduate work permits expire over the eligible timeline covered by the special policy. The government is now giving them an extended work period that will last until May 31, 2023.

“Today’s announcement is going to create a pathway to allow them to continue to work in Canada and remain in Canada despite this challenging circumstance that they’ve found themselves in as a result of certain challenges that occurred over the course of the pandemic,” Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told the Star on Tuesday.

“There’s an awful lot of people who have been struggling with the uncertainty of not knowing whether they would be able to remain in Canada or continue to work. And this announcement employs some new and innovative strategies to make it as seamless a pathway as possible to have as many of these talented people continuing to work in our communities.”

Fraser had announced back in April that the special measures would be ready in June. On Tuesday, he attributed the delay to the department’s “antiquated” system that limited automatic renewals of the expired and expiring work permits.

As a result, only those international students whose work permits expire from Oct. 2 to Dec. 31 of this year can be extended automatically in the system.

For this group, no action will be required. They will get an email to confirm their mailing address before an updated permit is issued by mid-October. Those who have an expired passport or outdated contact information must follow the instructions of the email and promptly update their records.

“We have to make sure we send the permit to the right person at the right location,” Fraser said.

International students whose work permits have expired or are expiring before Oct. 1 won’t be notified by email but must apply online for a new permit.

Those who are still in Canada but with expired status must apply to restore status and for a new work permit at the same time.

Although a person normally can only restore their status within 90 days of the expiry, the special measures lift that restriction and even those who have already left Canada may qualify.

Fraser said immigration officials have worked hard to raise the department’s capacity and processed 2.3 million permanent and temporary residence applications so far this year, almost doubling the 1.2 million applications finalized over the same period in 2021.

“We’ve hired 500 new people and are in the process of hiring 1,200 more. What we’re doing right now is growing our processing capacity as quickly as possible. We’re also looking at additional solutions that will take some of the demand off of the system,” he said.

“We’re working very hard to address (issues) by pumping more resources into the system, by making certain kinds of policy changes to allow people to continue to work in Canada and, of course, by moving toward a fully digital system, which is an initiative that’s well underway.”

He said the immigration department is already back at the standard of service it aimed for pre-pandemic — 12 months for new applications under family reunifications, and six months for skilled immigrants in the Express Entry talent pool.

Although there’s still more catch-up needed to restore the processing times for citizenship applications and temporary residence files for visitors and foreign workers, Fraser said he is hopeful that overall service standards will be back to normal by the end of the year.