COVID-19 travel restrictions are impacting immigration into Canada. Here’s one man’s story

Satyendra Mishra spent nearly two years compiling paperwork, education certificates, reference letters and medical examinations to obtain his permanent residency in Canada.

However, due to travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mishra’s confirmation of permanent residency (COPR) is set to expire April 30–possibly jeopardizing his dream to live and work in Canada.

“I was in anticipation that I would be in Canada, but now I know my COPR will expire,” said Mishra.

“The Canadian dream is in limbo.”

Canada welcomed 341,000 permanent residents in 2019, its highest figure since 1913, but that number dipped to 184,000 during 2020. A spokesperson for Immigration Canada confirmed Canada isn’t allowing COPR holders who received their letters after March 18, 2020 to enter the country except in some circumstances, like those with immediate family members living in Canada.

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The significant dip in permanent residents is a result of the pandemic’s shutdowns and mandatory quarantines, which have prevented people like Mishra from traveling to the country despite being approved to immigrate.

Immigration Canada also confirmed COPR holders will eventually be allowed to travel to the country, but didn’t specify when. They added anyone with expiring documents will be granted an extension once the borders open, and wouldn’t need to file a new application.

Read more: One year into pandemic, delays in permanent resident applications impact separated families

“We recognize the significant impact that travel restrictions have had on those planning to start a new life in Canada, and we thank them for their patience at this difficult moment,” read an email statement from Immigration Canada to Global News.

Mishra is one of thousands of COPR holders who have yet to receive clarity on when they’ll be able to immigrate. He emailed the Ministry of Immigration and wrote to members of Parliament, but Mishra noted he’s received generic responses with no more information about his case.

“Should I be waiting one month? Six months? A year? I just need to know so I can plan my life.”

In October, the federal government said they plan to increase immigration rates “to help the Canadian economy recover from COVID-19, drive future growth and create jobs for middle-class Canadians.” However, like many workplaces, federal employees at Immigration Canada are working from home, impacting processing times of permanent residency applications, according to Kyle Hyndman, a lawyer at McCrea Immigration Law.

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Hyndman says he’s never seen the immigration system this backlogged before. He adds his clients’ paperwork have sat in processing centres for upwards of eight months compared to the normal several weeks he sees.

“If in eight months your application gets returned or rejected, you’re back to square one. The whole system is being affected by delays,” said Hyndman.

Click to play video: 'Delays in processing permanent residence applications causing ‘uncertainty’' Delays in processing permanent residence applications causing ‘uncertainty’

Delays in processing permanent residence applications causing ‘uncertainty’ – Feb 19, 2021

In February 2021, Canada extended 27,000 invitations to people living in Canada on a temporary basis to apply for permanent residency, the single largest draw in the history of the express entry system.

The express entry system is a program that’s points-based. Points may be gained through a variety of different ways including skills, English proficiency and educational requirements.

On Wednesday, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced a new program that would help up to 90,000 immigrants come to Canada.

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“This isn’t just about giving people a new piece of paper. We’re creating a pathway for newcomers that will strengthen their job security, expand their career horizons and encourage them to put down deeper roots in our communities where they are giving back,” Mendicino said.

Mendicino did tout his government’s decision to create new pathways, but was not asked about COPR holders during the press conference.

Read more: Canada’s expanded travel restrictions too costly, say international students

Since 2018, Mishra has been planning to resettle his family in Canada by entering the country through the express entry route.

Mishra convinced his employer to transfer him to their Canadian location in Toronto. In March, he sold his home and car, wrapped up his daughter’s school year and moved to an AirBnB with his family. With tickets to Canada in hand, hotels booked for quarantine and temporary housing already secured, Mishra was under the assumption that if the Canadian government put an expiry date on a travel document, like his COPR, they would then also allow him to enter the country in that timeframe.

“I have a job offer, I’m willing to do a quarantine … please allow me to come,” said Mishra.

If Mishra’s permanent residency documents expire, he’ll still be able to support himself financially for the time being. His concern is when he’s eventually allowed to enter Canada, the job might be filled by someone else.

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“It took several months of persuasion, but how long will they hold the position? I know if I cannot provide an update sooner or later I will lose the job,” he said.

Click to play video: 'One immigrant’s journey to the Canadian dream' One immigrant’s journey to the Canadian dream

One immigrant’s journey to the Canadian dream – Feb 8, 2021

Moving to Ontario for work is not just beneficial for Mishra, but to Canada, according to Kareem El-Assal, Director of Policy at CanadaVisa.com, an immigration law firm. El-Assal says Canada has an aging population with nearly nine million people of the baby boomer generation set to be eligible for retirement by 2030. With Canada’s low-reproductive rates, El-Assal says there’s an urgent need for immigration.

“Growing the labour force is one of the ways Canada can grow its economy.”

“A strong labour force is important to help to alleviate economic challenges Canada faces as a result of the demographic changes,” El-Assal said.

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With Canada trying to hit their increased immigration goals this year to 401,000 permanent residents, Hyndman says there needs to be creative thinking to address the inability of COPR holders to travel, like extending quarantine hotel stays, or applying the same health protocols as temporary foreign workers. Hyndman believes if Canada doesn’t address this problem now, there will be an avalanche of people arriving at the same time — leading to pressure on housing and other social services.

“There are ways to manage this … they need to at least create some path for people to get here,” said Hyndman.

Now, Mishra tracks every news update, waiting to see when he can resettle in Canada.

“The distress in our mental health is enormous. I have sleepless nights because there is no clear direction when I will land in Canada,” he said.

Mishra has found some solace online, where through the hashtag #Free_COPR_Post_March18, dozens of people in similar situations have been able to connect with one another.

And while Mishra at times feels a lack of support from the Canadian government, officials say they’re keeping a close eye on the situation.

“We want to be clear: regardless of current circumstances, we will ensure that new permanent residents approved after March 18 can come to Canada once travel restrictions are lifted,” wrote a spokesperson for Mendicino. “We’re regularly monitoring the situation and preparing for their arrival once restrictions are lifted.”

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Despite all the uncertainty of when he can officially immigrate, Mishra still believes Canada does want people like him to immigrate here, and is holding on to his ‘Canadian Dream.’

“I have hope,” he said.

Ahmar Khan is a journalist based out of Toronto, Ontario, who covers politics, race, sports and inequality.

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