Canadian immigration news in brief: March 20 – March 27

A summary of the latest news in Canadian immigration.

Work permit holders will be allowed to enter Canada even if they were approved after the government issued a travel ban to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The government of Canada has released more specific terms and conditions for foreigners who had made commitments to work, study or settle in Canada to address some of the uncertainties that resulted from the first travel ban order.

Canada will continue to process applications for all Temporary Foreign Worker Program streams and work to help Canadian employers during the coronavirus.

Some hopeful immigrants to Alberta have been invited to apply for a provincial nomination for Canadian permanent residence.

In light of travel restrictions worldwide, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have announced that they are taking steps to suspend resettlement travel for refugees.

Canada has refined the special coronavirus prevention measures made last week affecting immigrants and their families.

Canada’s immigration policies and procedures have undergone daily changes over the past week as Canada seeks to contain the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Canada is taking steps to stabilize the economy, protect jobs, and help those affected by COVID-19 containment measures. Details of the COVID-19 Economic Response Plan were released on Wednesday, March 18.


Canada holds two Express Entry within five days

Two new Express Entry draws occurred in less than a week.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) held an Express Entry draw inviting 3,232 to apply for permanent residence yesterday, five days after sending out 668 invitations to candidates with provincial nominations last Friday.

The March 23 draw exclusively invited Canadian Experience Class (CEC) candidates with a minimum required Comprehensive Ranking Score (CRS) of 467.

The March 18 Express Entry draw, on the other hand, specifically targeted Provincial Nominee candidates. The minimum required CRS for that draw was 720.

Canada has issued 22, 600 invitations to apply (ITA’s) and held seven Express Entry draws so far this year.

The fact that IRCC held two draws so close together illustrates Canada’s commitment to meeting the immigration targets announced in the 2020-2022 immigration levels plan, despite the special measures put in place as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Canadian airlines suspending inbound, outbound fights

Airlines have begun suspending service to international travellers in response to Canada’s COVID-19 travel ban.

As of Monday, Canada instructed all airlines to screen oncoming passengers and refuse service to anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19.

Transport Canada has issued an interim order stating that if onboarding passengers display a fever of over 38°C, coughing and breathing difficulties they may not be allowed to board unless they have a medical certificate that says the symptoms are not a result of COVID-19.

Passengers must also be asked if they have been denied travel within the past 14 days due to COVID-19 symptoms. If the answer is “yes” then they may not board without a medical certificate. The penalty for individuals who are found to be non-compliant with this regulation is $5,000.

Airlines are also supposed to deny boarding to all passengers who are not exempt from the new restrictions. Exemptions include Canadian citizens, permanent residents, immediate family members, among others.  Fines for corporations that do not comply with the new measures are set at $25,000.

The travel ban will be in place until June 30, according to today’s order of the council.

Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, March 18, 2020. Photo submitted by Ammar Abdulaziz Kahwaji.

Airlines are also implementing their own COVID-19 containment measures. Though domestic flights are still allowed within Canada, some airlines have decided to either limit or stop service altogether for the time being.

Sunwing Airlines

Sunwing began suspending all southbound flights on Tuesday, March 17. The measure will be in effect until April 9. Northbound flights continue to operate.

They are also offering travel credits to those who booked flights and vacation packaged between March 17 and April 30. The credit will have the value of the amount paid, and be redeemable for future travel for up to 24 months after the original departure date.

Travel credits can be requested online.


Porter will be temporarily suspending service starting at the end of the operating day tomorrow, March 20, and resume on June 1.

Emails will be sent to customers and travel agents who had bookings during the suspension period with specific instructions pertaining to their specific reservation.

All flight change and cancellation fees have been waived. Customers can use the online portal to make changes.

Air Canada

Air Canada has already started suspending services, some for the entire summer season.

Most routes are scheduled for a temporary suspension until April 30. Suspension start dates depend on the route.

Air Canada is waiving change fees on existing bookings for those who purchased their tickets between March 4 and April 30. Customers are allowed to make a one-time change to flights without incurring a change fee, as long as the change is made up to two hours before the scheduled flight.

Changes can be made online, through a travel agent or by calling Air Canada.

Refund eligibility options are available in passengers’ booking information.


Westjet is suspending commercial operations for all transborder and international flights starting Sunday, March 22. All affected flights will need to launch by 11:59 p.m. local time on Sunday. The suspension will last 30 days.

Ticket sales for departures have been suspended as of March 18. Westjet says the measure is intended to focus their capacity on bringing Canadians home.

Domestic travel will be limited by 50 per cent over the next 30 days.

Westjet has implemented a flexible change policy so customers can adjust travel plans as needed. Changes can be made online.

Westjet is also lowering prices on remaining seats to Canada, their webpage says.

Air Transat

Air Transat is gradually suspending flights until April 30.

Sales for departures have been suspended between Canada and Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico as well as the U.S. until April 30. Flights are continuing for a few more days in order to bring people back to their home countries.

Air Transat did not release a date for when they would fully stop their services.

Information regarding rerouting flights will be published on the Air Transat webpage. Passengers whose flights have been cancelled will not see a price difference for rebooking, and there will be no additional booking fee.

If the cancellation of the flight means customers were unable to travel, they will receive a credit for future travel to be used within 24 months of their original travel dates.

All airlines report a high volume of calls during this exceptional period of change. Many have made customer assistance available on their webpages.

Despite coronavirus, Canada needs immigrants

Last week Canada announced its 2020-2022 Immigration Levels Plan as the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis was escalating.
Indeed, the announcement was overshadowed by the major economic and social turmoil that the coronavirus is having in Canada and abroad.

Here at home, Canada, just like most countries, appears headed towards a recession. COVID-19 has led to a price war between major oil producers globally, and the collapsing price of oil will have negative ramifications for Canada’s economy.

Moreover, weakened economic activity will hurt nearly every sector with certain ones in particular such as tourism and hospitality bearing significant blows.

To stymie the blows, the Bank of Canada announced an emergency cut to its overnight interest rate, just one week after it had already cut the rate. They may not be done, as some analysts forecast more cuts may be needed to help Canada’s economy weather the storm.

Overseas, we have seen the likes of states of emergency, travel bans, and other exceptional events such as stock market crashes.

Why 2020-2022 Immigration Levels Plan makes sense despite COVID-19

As such chaos engulfs the world, it is understandable that Canada’s decision to welcome over one million additional immigrants over the next three years is not the focus of attention at the moment.

Nonetheless, the COVID-19 crisis can help us understand why immigration will be so crucial to Canada’s economy moving forward.

Yes, Canada’s economy looks set to contract in 2020. As such, one could make the argument that increasing immigration at this moment is not ideal since newcomers will be arriving in Canada at a time when the labour market will struggle to absorb them.

However, current events serve as a reminder that Canada’s immigration policies are largely proactive in nature, and since the late 1980s, the decision of the number of immigrants to welcome has been largely detached from economic conditions on the ground.

While Canada welcomes immigrants to help fill immediate job vacancies, its immigration policies are also meant to strengthen the country’s economic standing years and decades from now. This means that even if newcomers arrive during an economic downturn, Canada expects the same newcomers to be catalysts for economic growth in the future.

A major reason for this is that all of Canada’s nine million baby boomers will reach retirement age by the end of this decade. Since Canada has a low birth rate, it is relying on immigration to drive the majority of its labour force growth.

Labour force growth is one of two ways to grow the economy, with the other way being to use the labour force more productively.

Hence, it still makes sense to admit high levels of newcomers even during periods of economic distress. While immigrants arriving in Canada in 2020 may face more difficulties than usual in finding work that aligns with their skills, education, and work experience, they will soon face the prospects of working in a country where the supply of labour will be significantly constrained as more baby boomers leave the workforce. This means that such immigrants will likely see more employers competing for their services, which would result in much better employment outcomes and salaries.

“Tap on, tap off” turned off in late 1980s

The proactive measure of welcoming high levels of newcomers even during recessions is a fairly new one in Canadian history.

Up until the late 1980s, Canada utilized a “tap on, tap off” approach to immigration levels. It welcomed higher levels of newcomers when the economy was strong, and reduced immigration during recessions. However, it moved away from this approach in the late 1980s after determining it needed to sustain high levels of immigration to alleviate the economic and fiscal strain that was soon to come due to its rapidly aging population and low birth rate. Since then, Canada has maintained high levels even during several recessions including the major one that occurred in 2008-09.

It can also be argued that a short-term benefit of welcoming immigrants during periods such as what Canada is experiencing today still helps the economy in the short-run since newcomers will help to stimulate demand in Canada through the purchase of goods and services which will help to relieve some of the economic stress being caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Announcing an ambitious immigration levels plan during such a crisis may not have appeared to be ideal timing on the surface, however, in practice, the timing of the announcement will prove immaterial.

Today’s higher immigration levels, even though we are experiencing a coronavirus crisis and economic pain, will result in greener economic pastures tomorrow as the influx of newcomers contributes to Canada’s economy as workers, consumers, and taxpayers.

6 factors that shape Canada’s immigration levels

Canada’s 2020-2022 Immigration Levels Plan announcement will spark much discussion. The discussion will center around issues such as the number of immigrants Canada will welcome, which categories they will fall under and whether Canada has the capacity to integrate these newcomers into its economy and society.

All these issues are important and merit much discussion and debate. But there usually is not much talk about what goes into determining immigration levels.

The difficult decision of identifying how many newcomers Canada will welcome each year is shaped by six major factors:

  • Demographics and economics
  • Canada’s policy goals
  • Global circumstances
  • Canada’s integration capacity
  • Canada’s processing capacity
  • Politics

Demographics and economics

Welcoming immigrants to Canada is an economic necessity due to the country’s demographic circumstances. Canada has one of the world’s oldest populations and one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Consequently, Canada needs to welcome immigrants to promote demographic and labour force growth, which is absolutely critical to sustaining economic growth.

Other countries may not need immigrants because they have younger populations and higher birth rates, but Canada, on the other hand, would see its high living standards take a hit in the absence of immigration.

Policy goals

Canada welcomes immigrants for three major reasons: to grow its economy, reunite families, and help refugees. Hence, immigration levels are always shaped with these goals in mind, and in fact, Canada goes to great lengths to fulfil these goals, as it welcomes some 40 per cent of its immigrants under the family and refugee classes each year.

Global circumstances

Tied into the previous factor is the matter of how Canada should respond to global circumstances. In assessing its economic class policies, Canada has to be sure there is enough global demand from potential immigrants to want to move to this country. In addition, as a member of the international community, Canada has an obligation to assist when humanitarian crises occur.

This may result in Canada taking short-term measures to adjust its immigration levels and which categories immigrants arrive under. Most recently, this occurred when Canada decided to increase its levels and refugee intake back in 2015-16 when the government opted to welcome more Syrian refugees.

Canada’s integration capacity

The federal government must have the confidence that the country’s economic conditions are sound enough for newcomers to be able to integrate into the labour market. In addition, it needs to ensure resources are in place nationally such as adequate immigrant settlement supports (e.g., language and job training), affordable housing, health care services, and public transportation that can help to support a larger population.

Canada’s processing capacity

Given that global demand to move to Canada far exceeds the country’s supply of immigration spots, the federal government must be mindful of its capacity to process immigration applications as quickly as possible. Even if the country wanted to welcome higher levels of immigration, it might not yet have the processing capacity in place to do so.

Canada has improved its processing capacity in recent years by implementing the Express Entry application management system, however, it still processes many immigration applications via paper, which is slower, and requires significant staffing resources.

Politics: the most influential factor

At the end of the day, the level of immigration chosen by the government is a political decision.

No matter what the economic justification is, or how the public feels, the government of the day mainly chooses immigration levels based on how it feels the decision may impact them coming election time.

This means that immigration levels can be kept low, even during times when Canada needs more immigrants. This is currently happening in Quebec (which is the only province or territory in Canada that can control its immigration levels). Quebec needs much higher immigration, but its current government has made the decision that it is in its best political interests to keep the province’s intake low.

Similarly, the current federal government could perhaps justify increasing Canada’s levels more rapidly, given the country’s low unemployment rate at the moment. However, they may have made the decision to slowly increase levels to potentially avoid a negative reaction from the public.

Of these six factors, politics is undoubtedly the most influential one in shaping the immigration direction that Canada chooses to take.