Canada lifts travel restrictions for prospective permanent residents, but some remain in limbo

About two years of uncertainty may be finally coming to an end for Chourouk Halloul and her family.

The family of three will finally be able to land in Canada after the country opened its borders on June 21 to all prospective permanent residents holding a valid Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR).

A COPR is a document issued by the federal government to immigrants when their application for permanent residence, including medical exams and security checks, is approved. The document allows them to travel to Canada and officially become permanent residents.

Halloul’s family applied to come to Canada through Nova Scotia’s provincial nomination program in September 2019 with the expectation that their application would be processed within six months. The program selects prospective immigrants with skills and experience that matches Nova Scotia’s needs.

COVID-19 put a wrench in the family’s plans as IRCC processing times became unpredictable. For over a year, the family spent their waking hours talking about their application and constantly checking the IRCC website. Halloul said they were afraid of what the future holds.

“We were living in total ambiguity, in total darkness … and we didn’t know what to do,” she said from her home in Tunisia.

Never-ending uncertainty

They finally received their COPR in February 2021, but that was the beginning of another waiting game.

Foreign travellers continue to be banned from entering Canada, save for a few exceptions. In this photo, travellers from an international flight are directed to the COVID-19 testing area at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, February 24, 2021. – Carlos Osorio/Reuters

Since March 18, 2020, Canada’s borders have been closed to non-Canadian citizens and permanent residents. There were some exemptions to the restrictions such as people who have immediate or extended family in Canada or some international students.

People with a COPR issued on or before the border closure were allowed to enter the country. But the thousands of people who got their COPRs after March 18, including Halloul, were stuck in their home countries despite having their applications approved.

Halloul said the uncertainty left her depressed and her seven-year-old daughter’s education in limbo. She said it was difficult to make decisions such as selling the family’s car and furniture or enrolling her daughter, Kenza, at school for the next academic year.

Now that borders are open for COPR holders, Halloul booked a flight to Canada for mid-July and made all necessary preparations for the family to complete their 14-day isolation. But one month seems so far away for Halloul and her family as the pandemic and resulting restrictions continue to be unpredictable.

“I have to inform my employer. But I’m really afraid if I informed him (that) I’m going to quit, maybe the borders will be closed in Canada,” she said.

No silver linings for expired COPRs

The lifting of travel restrictions for COPR holders is leaving some of them behind.

Another prospective permanent resident, who preferred to remain anonymous, received his COPR in November 2020, but he still won’t be able to come to Canada any time soon.

The man, who lives in Bangladesh, only had 45 days to come to Nova Scotia with his wife and mother before their COPR expired.

With the borders closed at the time, the man could only watch helplessly as the document became invalid.

Since he has a brother in Canada, the man also applied for an authorization to enter Canada as an extended family member but his application was denied.

“I’m still stuck in my home country, and I’m not seeing any silver linings,” he said in a phone interview.

People with expired COPRs are not allowed to enter Canada even before the pandemic. Since COVID-19 travel restrictions prevented many people from coming to Canada before their documents expired, IRCC is giving newcomers the chance to get them renewed. 

‘We never felt so helpless’

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said in an interview that IRCC is reaching out to newcomers to help them reissue the document and will continue to do so.

But the newcomer who spoke with The Chronicle Herald said he hasn’t heard from IRCC, yet. He said, however, that he knows a few people in other countries who got their COPRs extended for “five to six months.”

Extending the COPR requires getting a new medical exam and submitting your passport to get a new COPR stamped — all of which costs additional fees.

Federal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said people with expired COPRs are being contacted by IRCC to help them renew their document. - Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press/File
Federal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said people with expired COPRs are being contacted by IRCC to help them renew their document. – Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press/File

As the man waits for instructions to move forward, his career and education are put on hold.

When he first received his COPR, he applied and was accepted to Dalhousie University where he planned to study for his second master’s degree starting fall 2021. He said he provided IRCC with copies of his acceptance letter and another letter from a Dalhousie professor who is taking him on as a research assistant, but it didn’t make a difference.

Now he’s not sure whether to defer his acceptance or not. He also had to turn down two job offers in Bangladesh in fear that changing his workplace could further delay the processing of his application.

“We never felt so helpless,” he said. “We only want proper action from the IRCC.”

An economic ‘life line’

Minister Mendicino said the COVID-19 travel restrictions in place were to ensure the safety of newcomers and to “maintain the confidence of Canadians that our immigration system works.”

He added that he’s “confident” that the Canadian borders have “capacity to welcome them with public health and safety screening in place.”

The newcomers will help fill existing domestic labour shortages, said Mendicino, and accelerate Canada’s economy recovery.

“There was a lot of anticipation around reaching this milestone to reopen the border to permanent residents because there is a real demand for labour capacity and … immigration has been that lifeline.”

Nebal Snan is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government.

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