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COVID Blog #8: How the pandemic is affecting the path to immigration and Canadian citizenship

Immigrating to a new country is already a daunting and scary prospect on its own.

Imagine having to immigrate or navigate a citizenship application in the middle of a global pandemic.

This is the reality that many are finding themselves in the wake of COVID-19. The pandemic has caused a delay in application processing times, which is leaving the status of citizenship applications in limbo. Many are having to apply for visa extensions that only add anxiety and stress.

A Windsor couple has experienced firsthand how the pandemic has affected issues of citizenship. Michelle Bernier, who usually resides in Windsor, Ontario, had crossed over to Detroit in mid-March -- the night before the Canada-US border had closed for non-essential travel -- and is now being prevented from being reunited with her husband in Windsor. Bernier is in the process of getting her Canadian citizenship and her visitor’s visa recently expired.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has informed citizenship applicants that they have an additional 90 days to submit all of their required documents, and are still accepting new applications for Canadian citizenship. All citizenship events, such as ceremonies and tests, have been cancelled until further notice in the interest of public safety.

The pandemic’s domino effect on citizenship applications

While accommodations have been put into place for the current situation, many applicants are still dealing with their own unique struggles.

“Most citizenship applications require documents from the applicants’ home country, such as a certificate of good conduct, for example, and this would be hard to attain since most countries are on lockdown,” says Ryan Drew, Program Director of Integrated Settlement Services at settlement agency SUCCESS.

She also added that many potential applicants are feeling the financial strain of the pandemic after getting laid off and losing their source of income – leading to them being unable to afford the fees for a citizenship application.

As for those waiting for an update? The uncertainty continues to have a domino effect of impact on other aspects of their lives – such as being able to apply for a passport.

“Until now, people who passed the citizenship exam have not been notified when their oath-taking will take place. This is preventing them from becoming Canadian citizens, which leaves them unable to apply for a passport,” says Drew. “Some of the individuals waiting for the oath-taking could be Iranians who are unable to renew their expired Iranian passports since there is no embassy in Canada.”

Seeking asylum in a global pandemic

The pandemic is also affecting refugees who are seeking asylum in Canada. For those seeking to travel to Canada by plane, travel restrictions have dictated that aircraft carriers are required to deny boarding to those who aren’t Canadian citizens or permanent residents, with limited exceptions.

A temporary agreement between Canada and the U.S. states that individuals entering Canada from the U.S. to make an asylum claim will be temporarily sent back to the U.S. and individuals entering the U.S. from Canada looking to make an asylum claim will be temporarily sent back to Canada.

Accommodations and resources

As in many other instances during the COVID-19 pandemic, the adaptability and resiliency of individuals also shows in those applying for Canadian citizenship. A historic first virtual citizenship ceremony was held for a University of Manitoba professor researching solutions for the economic impact of the pandemic. Virtual citizenship ceremonies are becoming a viable option for those who need citizenship status for urgent reasons.

While not everyone can experience the benefits of being granted their citizenship status virtually, there are resources to help alleviate the stress of uncertainty during this time. Settlement agencies such as SUCCESS, MOSAIC and WelcomeBC are still offering their services to help with transitioning to life in Canada over phone or email.

The UN Refugee Agency of Canada (UNHCR) has compiled this webpage with evolving updates and resources for refugees seeking asylum in Canada. The International Organization for Migration has also listed facts about COVID-19 and key resources for migrants on their website.

The Arrival Advisor app by PeaceGeeks is also a valuable and comprehensive tool for newcomers to Canada – offering guidance and resources on the legal system and immigration, settling in Canada, and everything in between.

If there are any resources that we haven’t mentioned here, feel free to add them in the comments below. We’re looking forward to welcoming Canada’s newest residents and incoming citizens by making them feel welcome in their journey every step of the way.

Jun 3, 2020
Category: Thematic Issues