The unknowns faced by new immigrants in Canada have multiplied in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the immigration process hasn’t slowed, officials say.
Exemptions to current travel advisories allow temporary foreign workers, international students and approved permanent residents to enter the country despite ongoing restrictions barring non-essential travel to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Those coming into the country are required to pass a health check and isolate for 14 days after arriving.
But the days and weeks since the pandemic hit Canada have created new challenges for newcomers, says Asuka Hirai, director at the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS).
“Some of our clients, they have lost their jobs,” she said. “Many were new and just got hired, so some qualify for EI (employment insurance) but some don’t.”
Hirai says some of the new Canadians who can access EI are still struggling.
“Many of them are having difficulties applying for benefits because they have low literacy skills,” she said. “So it has been difficult for them to navigate the system to access resources.”
And VIRCS, like many other organizations, including the Immigrant Services Society of BC, has closed its offices – providing all services remotely by phone or online. That’s a difficult adjustment when language is already a barrier, Hirai said.
“Because we are not seeing them face to face, sometimes it takes longer to apply for the benefits,” she explained. “Case managers taking more time to understand their stories, what the struggles are, so they can apply for the proper benefits.”
For people with permanent resident applications still being processed, the federal government has extended deadlines by 90 days for steps that might be difficult during the pandemic, such as submitting passports or police certificates, or completing an immigration medical exam. Applicants also have 90 days to submit their biometrics instruction letters, which provide proof of document submission.
Citizen applications may be delayed, but are ongoing, according to the federal government.
The government says refugee resettlement programs are paused but will resume when conditions permit.
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