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The Parliament Buildings are illuminated in the colours of the Ukraine flag as people take part in Ukrainian Independence Day celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Aug. 24.PATRICK DOYLE/The Canadian Press

Tens of thousands of Ukrainians who fled the war in their homeland for safety in Canada under a temporary visa program are pressing Ottawa to allow them to settle here permanently.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, 2022, the Canadian government swiftly enacted the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel (CUAET), allowing an unlimited number of Ukrainians fleeing the war to work, study and stay in Canada for up to three years.

Since the introduction of CUAET, more than 210,000 Ukrainian nationals have arrived in Canada, and most of them do not want to return home, according to a study by Pathfinders for Ukraine, an advocacy group for Ukrainians displaced by the war.

Another 726,000 Ukrainians have been approved to come to Canada but have not yet exercised that option, figures from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada show.

Pathfinders conducted a survey from Sept. 5-12 of 1,200 Ukrainian families displaced by the war – about 3,600 people – that showed 90 per cent of them want to become permanent residents. Even if the war ended now, the survey found, 79 per cent would still prefer to stay in Canada.

The findings were shared with Immigration Minister Marc Miller in October.

“According to our data, 76 per cent of them are employed, and that is even better than the [43 per cent] employment level for those in Europe,” said Randall Baran-Chong, the executive director of Pathfinders, in an interview. “The ones who came here want to create a better future for their children and they want to work.”

Mr. Baran-Chong said the temporary visas will run out in a year and a half for many of those people.

“For employers, if they know you have a year and a half left on your visa, they will not necessarily want to invest in training or promote you,” he said. “There is also the anxiety about being displaced again. Forty-five per cent of the people we spoke to have children in school, so the prospect of pulling their kids out of school again is worrisome.”

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He would like Ottawa to extend the program and create a specific pathway for Ukrainians displaced by war to acquire permanent resident status, as they do not easily meet the criteria for federal or provincial economic migrant programs.

“For example, if you are over the age of 30, your points are going to be significantly diminished, and about 60 per cent of the war displaced Ukrainians are over the age of 30,” he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has told Canada and other Western countries that he wants Ukrainians displaced by the war to return home once the war is over to rebuild the shattered economy.

Mr. Miller told The Globe and Mail that Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, Yuliya Kovaliv, has made it clear to him that Kyiv wants Ukrainians to return home.

“And so, as an ally, I think it would be careless not to take that into consideration and perhaps provide the pathways for people to make that decision,” Mr. Miller said.

Norway and Switzerland are offering to pay Ukrainian refugees to return home.

Mr. Miller said the issue of returning Ukrainians has not been addressed “head on” by the government yet – and this is not the time to do so.

“There are a lot of considerations,” he said. “They will become more pressing as the months go on.”

But Mr. Miller said Ukrainians have rights in Canada and would not be forced to return to a conflict zone.

“I think you have to look into a family or an individual’s particular context and their rights as people that are on Canadian territory – and they do have them,” he said. “You can’t remove someone into a war zone. And you can’t force people against their will when they have real rights in Canada – that is just reality.”

He said he had “a lot of understanding” for Ukrainians with a child in school in Canada who want to stay, adding that “they may have a very legitimate reason to do so.”

Mr. Baran-Chong said displaced Ukrainians who are allowed to live in Canada can still contribute to the rebuilding of Ukraine. The Pathway survey found 68 per cent said they would make remittances to family members or organizations supporting rebuilding efforts once the war ends.

The government of Saskatchewan said it “welcomes Ukrainians” who want to settle in the province, which already has a large Ukrainian community. Since the war started, about 5,600 have moved to Saskatchewan.

The provincial government has adjusted its immigration nominee program and now prioritizes Ukrainian applications. Ukrainians with CUAET visas also pay domestic tuition fees rather than the higher rates for international students.

“The Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program [SINP] prioritizes the processing of applications from Ukrainians and has nominated just over 150 Ukrainian applicants since the war broke out,” said Nipun Taneja, a spokesperson for Saskatchewan’s Immigration Ministry.

In November, 2023, the province made it possible for more displaced Ukrainians to settle permanently in Saskatchewan by expanding eligibility requirements under the Existing Work Permit stream of the SINP.”

Previously, only newcomers in highly skilled occupations and designated trades were eligible, but Ukrainians in entry-level jobs can apply.

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