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Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marc Miller rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 21.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Immigration Minister Marc Miller says he has no plans to extend an emergency visa program for Ukrainians beyond an end-of-month deadline for them to arrive in Canada.

But, in an interview, Mr. Miller said he still intends to maintain “flexibility” to respond to events in the war-torn country, which is facing heavy bombardment more than two years after the start of the full-scale Russian invasion.

Ottawa set up the emergency program, the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel, shortly after the invasion. It was designed to allow an unlimited number of Ukrainians fleeing the war to work, study and stay in Canada for up to three years. Although applications closed in July last year, visa holders under the program were given until March 31 of this year to arrive in Canada.

Mr. Miller estimated that about 300,000 Ukrainians will have arrived in Canada by the end of March, even though hundreds of thousands more were eligible to come here under the emergency travel scheme.

He said extending the program is “not something that is actively being considered.”

But, he added, “The operational flexibility needs to be there for what happens in Ukraine.”

Ukrainian advocacy groups renewed calls on Friday for Mr. Miller to create a special pathway to permanent residency in Canada for Ukrainians who came here after the Russian invasion, saying it would be unsafe for many of them to return when their visas expire.

Ottawa program for Ukrainians seeking permanent residency lacks data, advocacy group says

Among those who want to stay in Canada is 18-year-old Mariia Nasedkyna, who arrived under the emergency program at age 16, in December, 2022. She came from the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, which this week was struck by missiles.

She is living with a Ukrainian-Canadian cousin in a suburb of Montreal, and working part-time in a clothing shop while improving her French so she can continue her schooling. Last week, her father was found dead in Kharkiv.

Her work permit expires in December, 2025, and she is afraid it won’t be safe to return to Ukraine by then.

“I want to stay. I want to study medicine here,” she said. “Everyone in my family are doctors.”

On Friday, Russia launched a major rocket and drone attack on Ukraine, striking targets that included the country’s largest hydroelectric power plant and several residential buildings. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has criticized Western countries for delays in providing his country with military aid.

Pathfinders for Ukraine, an advocacy group for Ukrainians displaced by the war, said it is expecting a spike in the number of Ukrainians arriving in Canada under the emergency program in the few days remaining before it closes.

According to Immigration Department figures, 960,000 Ukrainians have been approved to join the program, but as of the end of February only 248,726 had arrived in Canada.

Randall Baran-Chong, Pathfinders for Ukraine’s executive director and founder, agreed with Mr. Miller that around 300,000 Ukrainians would arrive in Canada in total. He said many others had applied to the program as an “insurance policy” and would likely never come.

He added that surveys have shown that around 90 per cent of Ukrainians who fled to Canada under the program want to stay.

He called on the government to extend the program and create a special path to permanent residency for Ukrainians.

“We know that employers have been hesitant to hire, train, and promote Ukrainians, knowing their work permit is set to expire in a year,” he said. “These war-displaced Ukrainians are de-facto refugees, but the program is a temporary measure that doesn’t afford them the benefits and protections of refugee status.”

Mr. Zelensky has told Canada and other Western countries that he wants Ukrainians displaced by the war to return home once the war is over, so they can rebuild Ukraine’s shattered economy.

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

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