April 7, 2020
Sent to: Hon. Marco Mendicino, P.C., M.P., Minister of Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship
Hon. Francois-Phillipe Champagne, P.C., M.P., Minister of Foreign Affairs
Hon. Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
OPEN LETTER: NEW IMMIGRATION MEASURES NEEDED DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
Ministers Mendicino, Champagne and Blair,
I write to you today to address concerns I have on several immigration matters in the face of COVID-19. I recognize these are unprecedented times, and the government has been put in a position where they must revaluate past procedures in response to this pandemic. Matters of immigration are of no exception.
First, I urge that an automatic 6-month extension/renewal of temporary work permits and study visas be given to those here on a temporary status. This would reduce the amount of strain not only on IRCC, but additionally provide these temporary residents with a sense a relief during this difficult time. This automatic extension/renewal would only need to be in place until the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided. After this period the regular extension/renewal application process could resume once again.
This temporary measure would encompass those with a visitor visa, study permit or a work permit. According to your government website, as of April 2nd, the estimated processing time for renewing these permits is as follows:
- Study permit: 120 days
- Visitor Extension: 103 days
- Work permit: 89 days
These projections assume that all applications are done online, and it is noted that it would take longer if people are only able to submit by paper. It is then indicated on the Processing Times webpage that “Processing times may not accurately reflect any disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)”.
During this unprecedented period, I believe any action that could help reduce both strain for department officials and anxiety for the public should be considered. The proposed solution would reduce administrative pressure for Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and provide much relief to those seeking to have their permit renewed during this difficult time.
Secondly, as you know, Humanitarian and Compassionate applicants and Permanent Resident applicants who do not have their stage 1 approval (Eligibility) will not be able to apply to get their work permit. This is a huge roadblock for them to get coverage through health insurance and other benefits. For example, in British Columbia, it can take an upwards of up to three months after your arrival date for the Medical Services Plan (MSP) to start covering your health care costs. I have cases that have come directly to my office citing this problem. During COVID-19 it is a terrible time for individuals not to have coverage for medical services as private insurance coverage is extremely costly. The last thing we want during this pandemic is for people without MSP coverage to avoid accessing the health care system because of cost.
Therefore, I strongly recommend that all PR applications are expedited during this time so that people can have sufficient access to any healthcare they may require. Staffing resources from work permits/study visas extensions/renewals could be redirected to assist in the processing of these applications.
Lastly, I would like to address the subject of deportations, as this intertwines with immigration issues. I am aware that deportation orders are still being given to individuals and deportation dates are being set. There are several concerns I have with regard to this. An obvious factor would be the current travel restrictions that are in place, and the dangers of flying internationally. Flights are currently limited, and individuals forced to travel are put at a heightened risk of contacting COVID-19. Additionally, the functioning of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) is also being impacted by COVID-19. According to the government's website, "All in person hearings and mediations, other than detention reviews, are postponed effective Tuesday March 17, 2020 through Sunday, April 5, 2020. The IRB will be regularly monitoring developments and an update to this notice will be communicated on or before Sunday, April 5, 2020. Postponed hearings and mediations will be rescheduled promptly upon the resumption of full IRB operations." It is absolutely understandable that health and safety precautions should be taken and recommendations for social distancing from medical health officers should be respected. As such, if hearings are delayed, then deportations should also be suspended. It would not be logical to proceed with deportation orders as usual if the appeal process is delayed during this time. I therefore strongly recommend that deportation orders be immediately suspended.
I recognize this is a difficult time for the functioning within IRCC and CBSA, and I believe these suggestions will help to manage these cases and alleviate further stress for everyone involved. I urge that you action on these suggestions as time is of the essence in these unprecedented times.
I look forward to your response on these important matters.
Jenny Kwan, MP, Vancouver East
NDP Critic for Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship
NDP Critic for Housing
NDP Deputy Critic for Health
Cc: The Hon. Chrystia Freeland