• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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Canada’s temporary visitor programme sees 13% apply for asylum

Canada’s temporary visitor program sees 13% apply for asylum

As of February 29, 2024, the Immigration Department issued approximately 152,400 visas under a time-limited program, including 7,300 for “Super Visas” for parents and grandparents visiting Canadian relatives.

According to a government memo obtained by Star through an access-to-information request, 19,400 asylum claims were made by visa holders under this programme, with few being Super Visa applicants. This indicates an unusually high rate of nearly 13% seeking protection in Canada.

This special visa programme introduced by Canada last year, aimed at facilitating visits for tourists, business travelers, and those with family ties, has resulted in unexpected outcomes.

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The newly obtained documents highlighted that a notable portion of individuals who utilized the accelerated visitor visas provided by the programme have now submitted asylum applications to stay in the country.

This situation, according to some, reflects the pent-up demand for asylum that arose during the pandemic-induced border closures.

In 2019, before the pandemic, Canada issued 5.7 million temporary resident visas, with 58,378 individuals requesting asylum.

This figure encompassed international students, foreign workers, and irregular migrants crossing the US border.

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Asylum seekers from the programme now represent 14% of the 137,947 new refugee claimants Canada received in 2023. This number is projected to rise, as many visa holders have not yet reached the expiration of their admission documents.

Raj Sharma Calgary-based immigration lawyer said, “A lot of these individuals would probably have been refused for visas but for the relaxation of the rules”.

“The program is done by December. That means that they’ve got a six-month entry. This surge or uptake will be with us for some time.”

Between February 28 and December 7, 2023, a temporary policy waived the need for applicants to demonstrate sufficient financial resources for travel and intent to depart Canada after their visits.

Read also: Canada set to reduce intake of temporary residents

However, applicants were required to have submitted their visa applications before January 16 of the previous year and not have been previously denied. Additionally, all applicants still had to pass security, criminal, and medical clearances.

Sean Fraser, the then immigration minister, signed a notice of the public policy that “With the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic now behind us, international travel is resuming and the Government is focused upon Canada’s economic recovery,”

“To position Canada to maximize the benefit of the movement of tourists, business persons and family visitors, the Government is committed to reducing processing times for visitor visas.”

Adam Sadinsky, an immigration lawyer in Toronto, attributed the elevated rate partially to the pent-up demand for asylum among individuals escaping persecution during the pandemic from March 2020 to September 2021, coinciding with border closures.

He also highlighted that the relaxed rules enabled some individuals who would have otherwise been denied entry to Canada to arrive.

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“The reality is that during the time that people weren’t able to travel to Canada, the types of persecution that people face that lead them to flee their countries and seek protection abroad didn’t cease,” Sadinsky added

“It’s natural that among the group of people who applied for temporary residence, there was a cohort of individuals, whose plan, it seems, was to claim refugee protection in Canada because there were nearly two years in which they weren’t able to do that.”

Sadinsky further noted that the relaxation of rules coincided with Ottawa and Washington expanding bilateral border agreements in March, effectively prohibiting asylum seekers from crossing between the two countries.

This restriction, he explained, essentially prevents irregular migrants from seeking asylum at the land border.

Consequently, only those privileged enough to secure a visa to fly to Canada have access to asylum.

Sadinsky emphasized that individuals have always been able to make refugee claims after arriving in Canada with a visitor, student, or work visa, stating that Canada has international obligations to protect those within its borders.