At the outset of the pandemic in March of 2020, the Canadian government restricted all non-essential travel in and out of the country. Unfortunately for many Canadians, the border restrictions resulted in some families being separated for months. Approximately six months after closing the borders, the Canadian government expanded compassionate border exemptions, allowing families to finally reunite with their loved ones after the long period of separation.
Since the inception of the compassionate border exemptions, the federal government has made significant progress in helping to reunite Canadians with their foreign spouses. In order to ensure the compassionate border exemptions worked efficiently, 66% more staff were deployed in order to handle spousal sponsorship applications. The goal for Immigration Canada was to process 18,000 applications between October and December 2020. Overall, just under 16,000 cases were settled in the period between October and December, with just under 15,000 successful applications.
Despite assigning extra staff to spousal sponsorship cases, expediency in resolution should not necessarily be expected, as Immigration Canada is still adjusting to the current situation. The average processing time for a spousal sponsorship before the onset of the pandemic was 12 months, and now the waiting period is even longer. The processing time currently is 17 months for applications from overseas and 15 months for applications coming from in Canada. However, it is possible that this waiting period will become shorter, as Immigration Canada has announced that it is set to introduce a project in order to digitize paper applications. There is a further effort coming to use online technology in order to conduct interviews online with applicants, rather than requiring they take place in person as they used to be before the pandemic. These two changes could streamline the process, but it is still unclear how soon the efforts will be felt, given the current significant backlog.
Despite the Canadian government program, it may be difficult for some families to be reunited. This week, Air Transat announced that it will be suspending all flights out of Toronto for the rest of the winter. If you have a flight booked with Air Transat that was cancelled, you will be eligible for a full refund. If you are currently abroad and impacted by this change, you will be automatically rebooked on another flight. Air Transat flights from Montreal to a few destinations will still be available, but for most travellers, choosing another airline will be necessary in order to reach your destination.
Another negative development for families trying to reunite comes directly from prime minister Trudeau. Last Tuesday, Trudeau made some comments regarding the current travel regulations, saying that Canada is looking at improving the measures already in place in the face of the new COVID-19 strains that are present in other countries. The Prime Minister further said that he would advise Canadians to cancel any plans they may have booked. These warnings come amidst a finding that more than 200 Canadian flights have had confirmed cases of COVID-19. However, the incidence of COVID cases contracted because of international travel is small, as it is estimated only 1.4% of the total COVID cases in Canada have come from travel. Despite the seemingly low incidence, the federal government is not taking any chances. We will be sure to see more regulations in the coming weeks, so make sure to keep up to date with the changes if you are planning on travelling.
If you are curious as to whether you or a loved one qualifies under a compassionate exception, be sure to visit the government website in order to clarify whether or not travel into Canada will be allowed in your situation.
Make sure you stay updated on regional restrictions and regulations before you make travel arrangements. If you are planning to travel or have a loved one travel to Canada, make sure you understand the ever-changing criteria and restrictions. If you have questions about where you can travel, please do not hesitate to contact us.
The immigration lawyers at Garson Immigration Law are continuing to monitor the immigration fallout in relation to COVID-19 on both sides of the border and will provide updates as the situation develops. If you have any questions about your potential classification as essential or about how you should comply with the changing regulations, do not hesitate to reach out to us online or by calling us at 416-321-2860.