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Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Sean Fraser makes an announcement at the Cafe Ukraine in Ottawa on March 22. Fraser says Canada will extend the emergency visa application period for Ukrainians looking for a safe haven until July 15.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The federal government is extending its special visa program for Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion, with the war now in its second year, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said Wednesday.

Ukrainians seeking to come to Canada will have until July 15 to apply for a temporary visa free of charge. The initial deadline had been the end of this month.

Those who have the special visa will have until March 31, 2024, to travel to Canada under the program, and visa holders already in Canada will have until March 31, 2024, to extend or adjust their temporary status free of charge.

“As Ukrainians continue to contend with the effects of this unlawful invasion, we reiterate our message to Ukraine: Canada will continue to support you,” Mr. Fraser said at Café Ukraine in Ottawa alongside members of Parliament and volunteers.

Last year, following Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ottawa announced the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program, which eliminates most of the normal visa requirements and allows Ukrainians to live, study and work for up to three years in Canada if they pass security checks. So far, 133,323 Ukrainians have arrived under the program, according to government figures.

Settlement services will remain available to Ukrainians after they arrive, and they will also be entitled to a one-time payment of transitional financial support and access to emergency accommodations for up to two weeks.

Last spring, the government announced it was offering financial assistance to Ukrainians who arrived under the program. The one-time payment includes $3,000 per adult and $1,500 per child.

Ukrainians are not considered refugees and so they do not have access to the same range of supports that come with that protected status.

Ukrainians who fled to Canada in ‘grey area’ of immigration system

Mr. Fraser said an ordinary refugee resettlement program does not have the capacity to move fast enough to respond to a large scale of need. Those programs also have a finite number of spots. Mr. Fraser said he is pleased with the results of this new program.

“We now have a model that can offer temporary protection where it did not exist before,” he said, adding that he hopes it can be applied in other circumstances where people require temporary protection.

Alexandra Chyczij, national president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said in a statement that the UCC welcomes the extension of the program and federal support for Ukrainians.

She said the Ukrainian community is also grateful to Canadians who opened “their hearts and their homes” to Ukrainians, to volunteers who welcome Ukrainians and to settlement services that deliver essential programs and support.

“With increased support from allies like Canada, this year can be the year that the Russian armies are driven out of Ukraine and peace returns to Europe.”

Mr. Fraser said that while the announcement extends the free temporary visa application to July 15, the government will continue to monitor the situation on the ground.

“One of the things that we want to maintain is the ability to manage our immigration system with some certainty. I would encourage people who are thinking of coming to Canada to apply to come, and if you need Canada’s protection, to come.”

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said it is urgent that the government extend measures to get Ukrainians to Canada. “There’s no question that people who are displaced from Ukraine absolutely need to get to safety,” she said.

Ms. Kwan also said the government needs to provide Ukrainians more support once they arrive in Canada.

Conservative immigration critic Tom Kmiec said his party welcomes the extension of the program, saying the Ukrainian community has been waiting for such an announcement for months.

“Canada should continue to stand with Ukrainians as they continue to defend themselves courageously against Russia’s unprovoked invasion of their country and welcome those seeking temporary refuge from the fighting.”

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