Last Updated on December 24, 2020
Canada and the rest of the world endured a year like no other in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and immigration was severely impacted.
Travel restrictions and the closure of the Canada-U.S. border meant newcomers were reduced to a trickle from March, with numbers of new permanent residents way below federal government projections.
Exemptions allowed in work permit holders, some new permanent residents and certain international students, but for three months at the start of the pandemic, the immigration system essentially stood still.
Numbers recovered to 15,000 new permanent residents a month by October, still well below the more than 30,000 newcomers a month being welcomed during the same period of 2020.
With vaccines now approved and being administered in Canada, there is light at the end of the tunnel for 2021.
A federal government plan to boost immigration levels over 400,000 starting next year means numbers of newcomers are set to skyrocket once the borders can reopen safely. However, it remains difficult to predict when that might be.
Here, immigration.ca reviews a tumultuous year of immigration developments.
As the year comes to an end, travel restrictions mean only foreign nationals in a limited number of categories are allowed into Canada.
Those who can travel include:
- Immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents staying in Canada for 15 days or more.
- Extended family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents staying in Canada for 15 days or more.
- Person authorized to travel for compassionate reasons.
- Other foreign nationals
- Certain people already approved for permanent residence (more later).
- Certain temporary foreign workers (more later).
- Certain international students (more later).
- Other categories including transiting passengers, certain family members of temporary residents and flight crew.
All travellers must quarantine for 14 days on arrival and present a viable plan for that quarantine to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officer at the border. The plan must include how they intend to transfer from the airport, where they will stay in isolation and how they will access necessities such as food.
Certain groups are exempt from the need to quarantine, such as truck drivers crossing the Canada-U.S. border.
Unless travellers can prove they meet the following requirements, they must wait until the travel restrictions are lifted to travel to Canada:
- Travellers coming from outside the United States must meet specific exemption criteria to travel restrictions.
- Travellers must be travelling for a non-discretionary reason. This requirement applies to all international and US travellers, no matter what country they are coming from.
- When the traveller arrives, a border services officer will assess their reason for travel, and determine if they can enter the country.
Immediate family members are eligible to travel to Canada as long as they can prove they:
- Are an immediate family member of a Canadian citizen, permanent resident, or a person registered under Canada’s Indian Act.
- Are staying for 15 days or more.
- Travellers staying for less than 15 days also need to demonstrate their purpose of travel is non-discretionary.
Travellers who are an extended family member of a Canadian citizen, permanent resident, or a person registered under Canada’s Indian Act need written authorization from IRCC to be exempt from travel restrictions.
Those seeking to travel to Canada for compassionate reasons must be authorized by the Public Health Agency of Canada to travel.
Coming to Canada
Travellers who meet the requirements listed above need to know the following before travelling:
- If flying to Canada, travellers need to pass a health check and other airline requirements before an airline will let you board. Travellers with symptoms of COVID-19 will not be allowed to board.
- As of November 21, 2020, travellers need to submit the following information via the ArriveCAN app or online before they can fly:
- contact information.
- travel information.
- quarantine plan (unless exempt).
- COVID-19 symptom self-assessment
- Travellers transiting through a Canadian airport are exempt from the ArriveCAN requirement.
- When travellers arrive in Canada, a border services officer will assess their health and quarantine plan before allowing entry.
The number of permanent resident arrivals plummeted in 2020 compared to 2019. Canada welcomed 158,565 new permanent residents in the first 10 months of this year, down from 295,180 in the corresponding period of 2019.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is still accepting permanent resident applications, although it can provide no estimated processing times.
Applications from citizens trying to return to Canada, vulnerable people and those performing essential services are being prioritized.
Candidates are required to submit a full application, and advised to wait to apply if they cannot pull together all of the required documents due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Some of the documents causing difficulties include police certificates, biometrics, passports and medical exams, and applicants are being given a rolling 90-day extension where their application is held up.
Language tests were initially suspended back in March, although some testing centres have reopened over the last eight months.
Candidates already approved for permanent residence cannot enter Canada unless covered by an exemption to the travel restrictions.
Candidates are exempt if:
- Their permanent residence was confirmed before March 18, 2020.
- Their permanent residence was confirmed after March 18, 2020 and they are an immediate family member sponsored by a citizen or permanent resident.
- They are currently living in the U.S. and coming to Canada directly.
Candidates only meet the above exemptions if they are coming to Canada to settle permanently, are able to quarantine for 14 days and, if travelling by air, pass an airline health check.
Permanent Residence in 2020: Read More
Canada began accepting permanent residence applications on Monday December 14 from refugee claimants who helped care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two new public policies were published on Wednesday December 9 outlining the details of the new pathways to permanent residence, which were originally announced on August 14.
The public policies include one for refugee claimants who work in care homes outside Quebec, and one for those who work in the French-speaking province.
The province of Quebec was particularly affected by a care home staffing crisis during the early stage of the pandemic.
Special Program For Asylum Seekers: Read More
Canada has continued to issue Invitations to Apply (ITAs) through the Express Entry system despite the restrictions in place due to the pandemic.
Indeed, 2020 has been a record year, with Canada issuing more than 100,000 ITAs to prospective skilled worker immigrants.
Initially, IRCC switched to inviting only Canadian Experience Class and Provincial Nominee Program candidates, considering them more likely to already be in Canada and therefore not subject to travel restrictions.
However, after initially resuming in July, all-program draws have become the norm again since the start of September.
Due to the pandemic, candidates receiving an ITA currently have 90 days to submit a full application.
Minimum Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) scores for all-program draws remained above 470 until the final three draws of the year, when scores of 469 (twice) and 468 were recorded.
In October, Canada announced an increase in the number of Express Entry points available to French-speaking and bilingual candidates.
The decision, announced by Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, saw the points for French-language increase from 15 to 25, and for bilingual candidates from 30 to 50.
Express Entry in 2020: Read More
Canada Express Entry
Express Entry Immigration Draws
Canada Passes 100,000 Invitations For 2020 In New Express Entry Draw
Express Entry Draw: Minimum CRS Score Drops to Lowest of 2020
Canada Increases Express Entry Points for French-Speaking and Bilingual Candidates
Aside from COVID-19, perhaps the biggest change out of Quebec in 2020 was a change of immigration minister, with Nadine Girault taking over from Simon Jolin-Barrett.
Quebec continues to accept applications for permanent residence throughout 2020, but warned processing times were likely to be affected by the coronavirus crisis.
The province was an important driver behind the decision to offer asylum seekers working in Canada’s care homes a pathway to permanent residence.
Early in the crisis, Quebec’s immigration ministry moved to extend the stay of international students whose Quebec Acceptance Certificate (CAQ) expired as of April 30, allowing them to apply to stay in the province until the end of 2020.
Quebec welcomes 18,155 new immigrants in the first eight months of 2020, compared to 25,550 during the same period of 2019.
The governing Coalition Avenir Quebec says it plans to increase immigration levels in 2021 to offset the drop in immigration seen in 2020.
It plans to welcome a maximum of 30,500 newcomers in 2020, rising to a maximum of 47,500 in 2021.
Quebec’s 2021 Immigration Levels Plan
|Results||Plan 2020||Forecast 2020||Plan 2021|
|– Skilled Workers||24,129||19,098||21,600||22,000||12,800||15,000||3,500||22,900||24,200|
|– Other Economic||859||644||600||700||200||400||100||600||800|
Quebec also finally pushed through reforms to the Quebec Experience Program in 2020, after a botched attempt at the end of 2019.
New reforms were proposed in May 2020, which were softened further in July.
Changes to Quebec Experience Program
1) Increased Work Experience
- Temporary workers will be required to have 24 months of full-time work experience during the 48 months preceding their request for permanent selection.
- Quebec graduates will require 12 or 24 months of full-time work experience to qualify for the PEQ. Mandatory internships as part of study programs count up to a maximum of 3 months of full-time work. For holders of a vocational diploma, the work experience requirement is reduced to 18 months. A transitional measure was inserted allowing international students already in Quebec to qualify for the Quebec Experience Program (PEQ) “under the conditions in effect before the coming into force of the new regulation”. The measure applies to those who have already obtained an eligible qualification, or will do so before December 31, 2020.
2) Knowledge of French for Spouses
Spouses of principal applicants will have to demonstrate a level 4 oral knowledge of French. This measure will only come into force in a year.
3) Proof of French Ability
A certificate of success of an advanced intermediate level French course offered in Quebec by an educational institution will no longer be admissible as proof of knowledge of French.
4) Processing Time
Target processing times will increase from 20 days to 6 months, given “the significant increase in requests submitted in the PEQ”.
Quebec also announced plans for three new immigration pilot programs targeting specific occupations during 2020.
Each pilot program will last for five years and include up to 550 candidates per year and their family members, according to the Ministry of Immigration, Francization and Integration (MIFI).
1. Beneficiary Attendant Pilot
The pilot for the permanent immigration of beneficiary attendants is designed to tackle what Quebec calls the “glaring lack of manpower in this field”.
2. Food Processing Pilot
The pilot for food processing provides a pathway to permanent residence for temporary foreign workers in a sector with “significant labour needs”.
3. Artificial Intelligence, Information Technology and Visual Effects Pilot
The pilot for workers in artificial intelligence, information technology and visual effects aims to attract international talent, plus allow temporary workers already in Quebec to become permanent residents. Artificial intelligence workers will make up half of the 550 candidates, with the remaining quota divided equally between the other two groups.
Quebec Immigration 2020: Read More
Quebec Immigration Draws
Quebec Expression of Interest
Quebec to Increase Immigration in 2021 to Boost Economic Recovery from Coronavirus Pandemic
Quebec Gives Work Permit Break To International Students Whose Study Permits Expire This Year
Quebec Immigration Announces Application Fee Increases for 2021
Quebec Updates Salary Guide For Employers Hiring Temporary Foreign Workers
Quebec Businesses Get New Arrima Employer Portal To More Easily Hire Highly-Skilled Immigrants
Quebec Experience Program: MIFI Softens Reforms, Reduces Work Experience
Canada’s provincial immigration programs have reacted in different ways to the coronavirus crisis.
Measures were implemented by most provinces to help applicants affected by the pandemic.
While most provinces have worked to get back to issuing Invitations to Apply and provincial nominations on a regular basis, only Alberta has announced it plans to limit immigration to help provide jobs for locals during the recovery.
British Columbia Provincial Nominee Program
The British Columbia Provincial Nominee Program (BCPNP) quickly moved to close its Vancouver office and cancel all in-person interviews as coronavirus set in during March.
A number of measures were introduced for candidates impacted by COVID-19 lockdowns, including the ability to put applications on hold for up to 24 weeks, capped until August 30, 2020.
BCPNP draws began excluding 31 jobs effectively deemed no longer in demand due to the impact of restrictions.
But, unlike many provinces, weekly B.C. draws for both skilled immigration streams and the B.C. PNP Tech Pilot continued without a significant break. The Tech Pilot has been extended again into 2021.
BCPNP: Key Articles and Pages
British Columbia Immigration
British Columbia Immigration Draws
BC PNP Tech Pilot
COVID-19: British Columbia to Exclude Certain Jobs from Immigration Draws Until End of 2020
Coronavirus: British Columbia Caps Time Applications Can Be Put On Hold
British Columbia’s Successful BC PNP Tech Pilot Extended To June 2021
Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program
Ontario was another province to follow the federal government lead and continue to invite candidates and issue nominations despite the coronavirus crisis.
The province reached its 2020 nomination allocation, including 450 extra spaces, in December.
The Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP) also launched and later met its intake limit for a new Regional Immigration Pilot, designed to get skilled immigrants moving to smaller communities.
Summary of Ontario NOIs 2020
|Stream||Notifications of interest|
|Human Capital Priorities Stream (HCP)||6,716|
|French Speaking Skilled Worker Stream (FSSW)||902|
|Skilled Trades Stream (ST)||1,464|
The province also effectively created a new stream for manufacturing jobs by adding 13 NOC codes to the target occupations under the Employer Job Offer: In-Demand Skilled Stream.
Ontario will launch an Express of Interest system for several of its streams in 2021.
OINP: Key Articles and Pages
Ontario immigration Draws
Ontario Immigration Maxes Out 2020 Nomination Allocation – Including 450 Extra Spaces
Ontario International Student Stream: Candidates Affected By Error Will Be Allowed to Register
Ontario Meets Intake Limit for Regional Immigration Pilot
Ontario Immigration to Introduce Expression of Interest System
Ontario Adds 13 New Manufacturing Occupations to Employer Job Offer: In-Demand Skilled Stream
Coronavirus: Ontario Immigration Issues Extensive Advice For Candidates and Employers
Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program
Manitoba escaped major lockdowns during the first wave of coronavirus, but was fully in the eye of the storm by the time the second wave of COVID-19 began to spread in Canada.
Immigration draws for the oldest provincial program continued uninterrupted. This including the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program (MPNP) conducting its 100th draw on October 8.
MPNP: Key Articles and Pages
Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program
Saskatchewan was another province to escape the brutal impact of the first wave of COVID-19 in Canada, but bear the brunt of the second wave.
The Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program postponed Entrepreneur Expression of Interest draws from March onwards as a result of the pandemic.
Draws continued through the Saskatchewan Expression of Interest system, targeted at the province’s Occupations In-Demand and Express Entry categories.
Earlier in the year, before the crisis began, the province moved to abandon its use of application intake thresholds and repeated a call to be given more power over its immigration system.
SINP: Key Articles and Pages
Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program
Alberta has so far been the only Canadian province to expressly state it would be reducing immigration as part of its coronavirus response.
Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program (AINP) draws stopped in June 2020 after the announcement of Premier Jason Kenny’s recovery strategy.
The province also announced it would not meet its federal government nomination allocation for 2020. It chose to nominate 4,000 candidates, 64 per cent of the 6,250 spaces allocated by Ottawa.
Alberta also announced two new programs aimed at international graduate entrepreneurs in 2020.
The International Graduate Entrepreneur Immigration Stream opened on October 26, 2020, while a new Foreign Graduate Start-Up Visa Stream aimed at graduates from U.S. universities is due to open in January 2021.
AINP: Key Articles and Pages
Alberta Immigration Draws
Alberta Immigration Launches Two New Programs Aimed at International Graduate Entrepreneurs
Alberta Immigration Says It Will Not Meet 2020 Federal Nomination Allocation
Alberta Immigration Introduces Series of Coronavirus Special Measures
Alberta Engineering Technologist Regulator Leads Way On Foreign Credential Recognition
Nova Scotia Nominee Program
Nova Scotia managed to escape the brunt of the coronavirus crisis, along with the Atlantic region in general. Case numbers were low in both the first and second wave, although they were the highest in the region.
The province has had a quiet year in term of immigration, with the major news being the permanent closure of the Nova Scotia Demand: Express Entry Stream in December.
The stream was unpopular and was usurped by the Labour Market Priorities stream, though which draws were conducted throughout the year.
NSNP: Key Articles and Pages
Nova Scotia Immigration
Nova Scotia Immigration Draws
Nova Scotia Announces Permanent Closure of Nova Scotia Demand: Express Entry Stream
Nova Scotia Appeals To Canada’s Federal Government For Help Bringing In Doctors
Atlantic Immigration Pilot Candidates: Submit Work Permit Applications Online
New Brunswick Provincial Nominee Program
New Brunswick was another province to escape the full force of the coronavirus pandemic during both waves in 2020.
The province moved early to restrict inter-provincial migration, although was later part of the ‘Atlantic bubble’ with its three neighbours of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland & Labrador and Prince Edward Island.
New Brunswick officials announced bold plans to increase immigration to 10,000 newcomers per year at the start of 2020.
Later in the year, the New Brunswick Provincial Nominee Program (NBPNP) announced a new pathway to permanent residence specifically for transport truck drivers, under NOC 7511.
NBPNP: Key Articles and Pages
New Brunswick immigration
New Brunswick Immigration Creates Specific Pathway For Transport Truck Drivers (NOC 7511)
Coronavirus: New Brunswick Restricts Inter-Provincial Migration
New Brunswick Plans To Grow Economy By Boosting Immigration To 10,000 Per Year
Prince Edward Island Provincial Nomination Program
Prince Edward Island also managed to keep its coronavirus case load to a minimum, although there were disruptions to draws through the PEI Provincial Nomination Program.
The PEI immigration office provided essential services only during the first wave, when monthly skilled worker draws were all but halted.
The province did leverage the PEI PNP to bring in healthcare workers and truckers to support its pandemic response.
PEI PNP: Key Articles and Pages
Newfoundland & Labrador Provincial Nominee Program
The Newfoundland & Labrador Office of Immigration continued to provide essential services for newcomers and employers during the coronavirus crisis. Application screening and processing continued at reduce volume.
The Newfoundland & Labrador Provincial Nominee Program (NLPNP) upped its game in terms of attracting technology workers in 2020.
Multiple IT jobs were added to its in-demand occupations and it announced a new PNP stream targeting tech sector workers.
Changes were also made to requirements for the province’s International Graduate Category.
Key Articles and Pages
Newfoundland & Labrador Immigration
Newfoundland Adds Multiple IT Jobs to List of In-Demand Occupations
Newfoundland Immigration Changes Requirements for International Graduate Category
Newfoundland To Open New PNP Stream Targeting Technology Sector Workers
Newfoundland Immigration Releases Coronavirus Guidelines
The number of people becoming Canadian citizens has effectively ground to a halt during the pandemic.
Citizenship confirmation ceremonies and citizenship tests were initially completely suspended.
While a limited number of ceremonies are now taking place online, language and knowledge tests are yet to resume.
In the first six months of 2020, a total of 62,696 people became Canadian citizens, compared 127,580 in the same period of 2019.
Other developments included Canada changing the rules on qualifying for Canadian citizenship to help non-biological parents with children born abroad.
The change in interpretation of the Citizenship Act allows non-biological parents to pass down citizenship to their first-generation children born abroad.
Canada had started the year expected to enact a 2019 pledge to abolish the fee for citizenship, a Liberal government policy that has fallen down the list of priorities due to the pandemic.
Citizenship in 2020: Read More
Canada Resumes Citizenship Knowledge Tests With New Online Platform
Candidates Wait for Canada’s Federal Government to Abolish Citizenship Fee
Canada Changes Rules on Who Qualifies for Citizenship at Birth
Canada Plans To Change Citizenship Oath To Reference Indigenous People
Canada quickly introduced an exemption to travel restrictions for temporary workers, soon after the travel restrictions and border closures were put in place in March.
This was in recognition of the vital role temporary workers play in keeping Canada’s economy ticking, including working on farms to maintain the food supply.
Temporary workers coming to Canada are exempt from travel restrictions provided their travel is essential.
They are considered essential if they have a valid work permit and normally live in Canada, or if they have a letter of introduction for a work permit, a valid job offer and are ready to start work after their 14-day quarantine.
As a result of the exemption, temporary worker numbers did not fall as dramatically as numbers of new permanent residents.
Through the International Mobility Program, 127,230 temporary workers arrived in the first eight months of 2020, compared to 193,860 in the same period of 2019.
Through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, 66,175 temporary workers arrived in the first eight months of 2020, compared to 78,195 in the same period of 2019.
Temporary Workers in 2020: Read More
Ottawa Aims to Help Canada Employers Hire Visitors with Temporary Policy Change
Coronavirus: These Essential Temporary Workers No Longer Need To Submit Biometrics
Canadian Employers Must Pay Mandatory 14-day Quarantine When Hiring Temporary Foreign Workers
COVID-19: Special Measures For Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program
COVID-19: Agriculture Employers to get $1,500 for Each Self-Isolating Temporary Worker
Coronavirus: Chartered Flights Bringing Important Temporary Foreign Workers To Canada
International students have been the subject of a number of policy changes during 2020 and the COVID-19 crisis.
As of October 20, 2020, international student have been allowed to travel to Canada provided they are attending a Designated Learning Institution (DLI) with a COVID-19 readiness plan approved by their provincial or territorial government. They must still quarantine for 14 days on arrival.
Initially, international students were allowed to travel to Canada provided their Study Permit was granted before March 18, 2020.
A new 2-step process was introduced for students starting in fall 2020 who had to begin their courses online. The process involved approval in principle for candidates beginning their studies online, with full approval to be granted at a later date when the candidate arrived in Canada.
Changes were also made to the Post Graduation Work Permit for students who needed to switch to taking their courses online.
Students in one of the following categories remain eligible for the PGWP if at least half of their program is completed in Canada:
1) Study permit holders who had already begun their studies in Canada, but left Canada and are continuing their courses online.
2) Candidates approved for a study permit for a program starting in spring, summer or fall 2020, who will begin their program online instead of trying to travel to Canada.
International Students in 2020: Read More
Canada Student Visa
Student Direct Stream
International Students Increasingly Important to Canada’s Colleges and Universities: Study
Designated Learning Institutions With Approved COVID-19 Readiness Plans For International Students
Canada’s Coronavirus Travel Exemption For International Students Begins Today, October 20
Canada Relaxes Coronavirus Travel Restrictions For Extended Family, International Students
International Student Stuck in Express Entry Pool? Consider Canada’s Start-Up Visa
Canada Adds Coronavirus Travel Exemption For International Students From U.S.
Canada Offers More Detail on Coronavirus Measures for International Students
Canada immigration in 2021 hinges on the reopening of borders and how quickly the coronavirus vaccines have an impact on global case numbers.
The federal government certainly has bold plans for when the borders do reopen.
After issuing a record number of Express Entry ITAs in 2020, IRCC is positioning itself for a flood of newcomers at some point in the next year.
Canada’s 2021-2023 Immigration Levels Plan
|Overall Planned Permanent Resident Admissions||401,000||411,000||421,000|
|Economic||Federal High Skilled||108,500||110,500||113,750|
|Economic Pilots: Caregivers; Agri-Food Pilot; Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot||8,500||10,000||10,250|
|Atlantic Immigration Pilot||6,000||6,250||6,500|
|Provincial Nominee Program||80,800||81,500||83,000|
|Quebec Skilled Workers and Business||See the Quebec immigration plan||To be determined||To be determined|
|Family||Spouses, Partners and Children||80,000||80,000||81,000|
|Parents and Grandparents||23,500||23,500||23,500|
|Refugees and Protected Persons||Protected Persons in Canada and Dependents Abroad||23,500||24,500||25,000|
|Resettled Refugees – Government-Assisted||12,500||12,500||12,500|
|Resettled Refugees – Privately Sponsored||22,500||22,500||22,500|
|Resettled Refugees – Blended Visa Office-Referred||1,000||1,000||1,000|
|Total Refugees and Protected Persons||59,500||60,500||61,000|
|Humanitarian and Other||Total Humanitarian and Other||5,500||5,500||6,000|
The immigration levels plan presented to parliament at the end of October projects more than 1.2 million newcomers over the next three years.
But all of that relies on bringing the pandemic under control.
As the year comes to an end, COVID-19 is still raging all over the world, most notably in the United States where it is spreading relentlessly.
With such significant variables having a dramatic impact on Canada’s immigration system, 2021 promises to be one of the most unpredictable years ever.