OPEN LETTER to Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Immigration, Minister of Finance and Minister of Employment to address urgent immigration concerns

I write to you today to follow-up on the numerous concerns I have raised in previous letters to your offices regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic for those engaged in the immigration process. To date, I have yet to receive any reply. As time goes by, the situation for those affected are growing increasingly dire and they deserve answers now. Throughout this pandemic it is essential we take care of the migrant population, as they have done for us.
I am therefore writing with a renewed sense of urgency to seek answers for the following questions.

"April 29, 2020

The Hon. Marco Mendicino
Minister of Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship

The Hon. Chrystia Freeland, Chair
Cabinet Committee on the federal response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

The Hon. Bill Morneau Minister of Finance

The Hon. Carla Qualtrough
Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion

Open Letter: Urgent Immigration Concerns in the Face of COVID-19

Dear Ministers,

I write to you today to follow-up on the numerous concerns I have raised in previous letters to your offices regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic for those engaged in the immigration process. To date, I have yet to receive any reply. As time goes by, the situation for those affected are growing increasingly dire and they deserve answers now. Throughout this pandemic it is essential we take care of the migrant population, as they have done for us.

I am therefore writing with a renewed sense of urgency to seek answers for the following questions.

Need for Automatic Extension of Work Permits/Study Visas and Open Work Permits

As indicated on your department's own website, “Processing times may not accurately reflect any disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)”. In fact, it has been brought to my attention that a number of migrant workers or those with study visas are currently without status due to the delays in processing by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). While there are a range of scenarios where this could happen, one common situation is when the migrant workers' permit expires before they are granted an extension and at the same time, they have lost their employment due to COVID-19. Through no fault of their own, they are now caught in situation where they are without status.

For those with an employer-specific work permit, they have little opportunity to find employment. It would be essential that they are provided with an open work permit.

-  What is being done to address this pressing issue? Will you automatically extend their work permit/study visa and will you expand their work permit from an employer specific work permit to an open work permit?

Fulfilling Work Requirements During COVID-19

Many workers are experiencing a severe reduction in the number of hours they can work or have been laid off altogether. Again, at no fault of their own, many workers find themselves unable to continue to work as usual. This is problematic as many workers from various immigration streams are concerned about no longer being able to meet their work requirements needed to apply for their Permanent Residency (PR). For example, caregivers must have 24 months of work experience before they are able to apply.

•  Would the period in which the worker is laid off due to COVID-19 still count toward their 24-month work requirement?

•  If yes, what documentation is required? Would they need to submit proof of termination due to COVID-19 from their employer?

•  If not, why not?

I hope you will agree that these workers are already severely impacted by the pandemic and should not be further penalized.

Accessing Financial Support for Various Immigration Streams

In the face of COVID-19, it is crucial that everyone has the financial support they need to get through this incredibly difficult time. As you are aware, there are many immigration- related processes that are strictly tied to people’s ability to support themselves and/or that of their loved ones and generally they are not allowed to seek financial assistance from the government. I had previously sought reassurance that those involved in immigration processes would not be penalized for collecting financial assistance from the government during this time, specifically the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). This includes migrant workers, spousal sponsorships and parents/grandparents sponsorships.

While I have not received a response from Minister Mendicino directly, I was advised by Parliamentary Secretary Adam Vaughn that he had sought your advice and that of officials from Minister Qualtrough that these individuals would indeed not be penalized. I further received the following reply from Parliamentary Secretary, MP Soraya Martinez Ferrada on April 17, 2020:

“I finally can confirm with you that if people receiving CERB will not negatively impact the individual immigration process or status.

People can go ahead and apply for CERB without fearing that their immigration applications or status will be affected.

This is relevant for the following categories:

•  People sponsoring their spouse, child, parent or grandparent

•  People who have received PR status as a result of being sponsored by a family member

The IRCC website will reflect this today.

Thanks and will continue to inform you on the other issues we discussed.”

Subsequently,

Minister, I hope you will agree that this assurance would logically be extended to similar groups, such as Temporary Foreign Workers, and those in the Caregivers program. It would make no sense if the government is allowing TFW’s to collect CERB if they meet the eligibility criteria that they would later be penalized for it.

- Therefore, I ask for immediate confirmation that receiving CERB benefits will have not impact or affect on an individual’s ability to proceed with their PR application in all immigration streams, including Temporary Foreign Workers and Caregivers?

Delays in Permanent Resident Applications Processing

As it stands, many who are currently applying for their Permanent Residency (PR) are facing several issues due to delays in processing. For example, I have a constituent case who currently has his working tourist visa and is in process of applying for his PR. He had foreign documents that needed to be verified by a third-party company (World Education Services), as IRCC mandates. To his dismay, he was informed that this company has shut down due to COVID-19 and now his PR application has come to a complete halt. In the meantime, his work visa had expired and now he cannot continue to work and he is unable to collect CERB.

- Therefore, it is crucial to know what is happening to PR cases who have been delayed through no fault of their own because of their inability to obtain the necessary documents due to COVID-19?

Access to Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) without a Social Insurance Number

Currently, in order to access CERB the applicant must have a valid Social Insurance Number (SIN). I have heard of many cases where Temporary Foreign Worker’s and international students are unable to renew their SIN due to IRCC delays, therefore making them ineligible for CERB.

In the letter I wrote previously on April 25, 2020, I further outlined this problem and urged that the government extend CERB to those whose SIN has expired. Since then, I was able to raise this to the attention of Minister Qualtrough and she agreed that it is unacceptable that backlogs in another government department is impeding individuals from getting the help they need at this crucial time.

Additionally, in my letter I raised the fact that undocumented workers should have the opportunity to use their Individual Tax Numbers (ITN) in place of a valid SIN. The Individual Tax Number (ITN) is a unique number that Canada Revenue Agency uses to identify workers from tax purposes if they are not eligible for a SIN, making it a simple substitute to grant access to those who desperately need support.

I hope you will agree that migrant workers and undocumented workers should be support as they abide by the health directive of social distancing to help flatten the curve.

Health Care Coverage

Under the current circumstances of this public health emergency, COVID-19, health care coverage must be extended to all of those who need it. 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.

In the letter I wrote on April 7, 2020 I detailed this issue. With applications being halted or slowed due to closure of IRCC offices, as a result, there are applicants here in Canada who are left without health coverage.

I once again urge that all PR applications be expedited during this time so that people can have sufficient access to any healthcare they may require.

Migrant Workers Leaving Risky Jobs Due to COVID-19

According to current eligibility for CERB, those who have “voluntarily quit” their jobs are not eligible to apply. However, certain job conditions have become increasingly risky and/dangerous in the time of COVID-19 and we need to ensure those leaving their jobs are not deemed to have “quit voluntarily”.

It would be extremely unjust if workers put in a compromised position are being faulted in any way.

Support for Undocumented Workers

Finally, as it stands, there is limited support for undocumented workers who have too have been left in a precarious situation, and need economic support just like any other low- income worker during this time. To effectively flatten the curve of COVID-19, we cannot afford to leave anybody out.

This is why it would be essential that undocumented workers are support during this difficult time.

Thank you for your attention to the important issues I have outlined. As always, I am available to assist in these matters and I look forward to your prompt response. Time is of the essence.

Sincerely,
Jenny Kwan
MP, Vancouver East
NDP Critic for Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship NDP Critic for Housing
NDP Deputy Critic for Health

Cc: The Hon. Ahmed Hussen"
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