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Time for IRCC to have a Standardized Response to Adverse Country Events

by Ronalee Carey Law

February 2023

Illustration: A family of 4 stands in the foreground. Behind on the left is a city on fire; behind on the right is a city with trees. There is an arrow pointing from the burning city to the other city. Freepik.com

On February 23rd, IRCC announced new measures to support Iranian temporary residents in Canada.  The measures include:

  • Making it easier to extend temporary status in Canada (as visitors, workers, or students)
  • Creation of an open work permit for Iranians in Canada
  • Waiving processing fees
  • Processing applications on a priority basis

For Canadians and permanent residents of Canada living in Iran, IRCC will waive processing fees for new documents.

These measures are laudable. So is the program for Ukrainians, which allows applicants to come to Canada and work for up to three years. Canada also continues to welcome Afghan refugees, including the most recent arrival for the private refugee sponsorship group of which I am a member.

What is concerning is that these programs seem to be motivated by politics rather than any coherent strategy. Helping Iranians provides the government with excellent media coverage, but the program is not actually doing anything to help people in Iran. In contrast to the program for Ukrainians, the program for Iranians does not permit a visa to allow anyone to come to Canada. The special measures are only for those already in the country to help them stay rather than return to Iran. Further, for both Iranians and Ukrainians, the measures are temporary. I’ve given several presentations to Ukrainian clients of Ottawa settlement agencies in the last few weeks. The options are bleak – Express Entry scores are highly competitive, and especially for those in Ontario, there are limited options for those without a qualifying job offer. Unless the Canadian government develops a special immigration stream or extends the three-year work permits, many Ukrainians will find they must return to their devastated country rather than continue living in Canada.

There are always going to be adverse events in other countries. After the recent earthquake in Turkey, there were calls for the government to provide an immigration stream for those affected to be reunited with Canadian family members. Unfortunately, Canada’s family reunification program is limited to parents and grandparents (on a lottery basis), spouses and partners, and dependent children under the age of 22. You can’t sponsor a sibling, a cousin, or a niece or nephew, despite how dire their situation is in their country of origin, except in very rare circumstances.

Rather than lurching from world crisis to world crisis and treating individuals from various countries differently, I would prefer IRCC develop a coherent strategy for dealing with those who want to come to Canada or bring people to Canada. For example, the government could create a visa program for family members of Canadian citizens from designated countries, then quickly add a country to the list in the case of an outbreak of war or a natural disaster. Then, so long as the country remains on the list, the status in Canada could be renewed. Undoubtedly this would lead to more refugee claims and applications for humanitarian and compassionate consideration, but I think Canadians would be willing to accommodate a few extra applications. Plus, recent statistics show that fewer permanent residents are applying for citizenship in Canada (down to 45.7%); we can afford to add a few more Canadians.

I Smell an Incongruity: International Students Can Work an Unlimited Number of Hours, But Employment Income Can’t Be Considered in Assessing a Study Permit Application

by Ronalee Carey Law

January 2023

Last month, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser posed in a photo op with international students on the floor of a USP facility. The tweet that accompanied the photo boasted that letting international students work 40 hours a week instead of 20 would have a ‘positive impact on their ability to support themselves financially while studying in Canada.’

The tweet was in reference to a temporary public policy that allows certain students to work full-time during an academic semester.

Aside from wondering how students are supposed to focus on their full-time studies if also working full-time, how does the Minister square this new policy with the legislative prohibition against considering the potential earnings of an international student when assessing their application to study in Canada?

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act states: 

Financial resources

220 An officer shall not issue a study permit to a foreign national, other than one described in paragraph 215(1)(d) or (e), unless they have sufficient and available financial resources, without working in Canada to

  • (a)pay the tuition fees for the course or program of studies that they intend to pursue;
  • (b)maintain themself and any family members who are accompanying them during their proposed period of study; and
  • (c)pay the costs of transporting themself and the family members referred to in paragraph (b) to and from Canada.


This provision applies to both initial study permit applications and study permit extension applications.

So, an international student can work full-time to help ‘their ability to support themselves financially while studying in Canada,’ but an IRCC reviewing the study permit application cannot consider this income when determining if they have the financial resources to pay their tuition and living expenses. That officer must deny the study permit extension application if the student cannot show adequate financial means without working in Canada.


Dual Intent Policy for Spousal Reunification not Leading to Reunification

by Ronalee Carey Law

December 2022

Wedding bands intertwined with a red heart on top.

First comes love, then comes marriage, and then comes an interminable wait for IRCC to process a sponsorship application.

Currently, Family Class applications have a processing time of 18 months. That’s a really long time for newlyweds to put their lives on hold.

As described in our previous newsletter, Visitor visas for romantic partners: tough to get, but not impossible; it can be very difficult for the romantic partners of Canadian citizens and permanent residents to get visas to come to Canada as visitors. For couples wishing to apply for a visitor visa for the sponsored spouse to come to Canada during the processing of the application, IRCC now has a policy applying the ‘dual intent’ section of our immigration legislation:

Spouses and partners

Officers should consider the individual circumstances of a foreign national who is being sponsored for permanent residence as a spouse or common-law partner. Factors to consider include, but are not limited to,

  • whether the sponsorship application has been approved
  • whether the application for permanent residence has received stage one approval
  • to what extent the applicant has retained ties in their home country
  • what the applicant’s plan is, should their application for permanent residence be refused

If a spouse or partner can satisfy an officer on a balance of probabilities that they will, if their permanent residence application is refused, leave Canada at the end of their authorized period of stay in accordance with section R179, officers may issue a temporary resident visa (TRV).

This policy seems helpful, but it can take many months for the sponsorship application to be approved or for the sponsored individual’s application to be approved in principle. Further, most people planning on moving to Canada permanently do not retain many ties to their home country, such as property or employment.

A colleague recently received statistics from IRCC that he shared on Twitter:

From 2019 - 2021 (Oct), the eTA approval rate for applicants with Family Class applications in processing was 93%. For TRVs, it was 48%. In 2020 IRCC introduced guidance to officers supposedly to increase TRV approval rates for these situations. There is no indication that it worked.

If only 7% of Family Class applications are unsuccessful, especially as many will have simply been deficient in terms of the documentation provided, without there being marriage fraud or other nefarious intent, I find it unconscionable that 52% of individuals would be deliberately kept from their Canadian partner by IRCC.

Moving Towards a Half-a-Million New Canadians a Year

by Ronalee Carey Law

November 2022

One of the best books I’ve ever read about Canadian immigration is Maximum Canada: Toward a Country of 100 Million. In it, Globe and Mail international affairs columnists Douglas Saunders argues that Canadian immigration policies instituted by Britain led to Canada being underpopulated and deprived it of the critical mass of individuals necessary to create an economic environment conducive to innovation and entrepreneurship. This led and continues to lead to the ‘out-migration’ of Canada’s best and brightest, with the USA the primary beneficiary.

In his book, Saunders advocates for the increase in Canada’s population to 100,000,000 by 2100. As most immigrants tend to move to cities, the increase in population would allow for a sufficient tax base to create environmentally friendly public transportation systems and well-serviced neighbourhoods.

Saunders’s views are advocated by the Century Initiative, a Canadian charity advocating for an increase in Canada’s population. 

Amidst significant job shortages exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian government is moving in the direction espoused by those who think Canada needs more Canadians.  Earlier this month, the government announced its 2023-2025 Immigration Levels Plan, setting an ambitious target of welcoming 500,000 new immigrants annually by 2025.

Immigration is changing the face of Canada. Recent Statistics Canada data reports revealed that Canada is home to more than 450 ethnic or cultural origins. One in four Canadians is now part of a racialized group. And significantly, 23% of residents have or formerly held permanent resident status.

The majority of the Canadian population supports high levels of immigration, despite concerns about housing shortages and a lack of family physicians. 

I have my quibbles about the Immigration Levels Plan. In particular, I am concerned that Canada plans to decrease the number of government-assisted resettled refugees (23,550 in 2023 to 15,250 in 2025) and will slash the number of individuals accepted based on humanitarian and compassionate considerations (15,985 in 2023 but only 8,000 in 2025.) However, I am pleased that the number of highly skilled workers, including international students selected through the Canadian Experience Class, will significantly increase (82,880 in 2023 to 114,000 in 2025.)