The federal government has extended the amount of time Ukrainians fleeing the war with Russia can stay in Canada through a streamlined visa program.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser had previously said Ukrainians would be allowed to stay for two years. But in announcing the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel on Thursday, he said Ukrainians and their immediate family members of any nationality will be able to stay in Canada for three years.
“The stay was increased from two years to three, to give Ukrainian nationals the flexibility to stay longer, should they choose to do so,” Aidan Strickland, a spokesperson for the Immigration Minister, said in a statement.
Under the visa program, Ukrainians can leave and return to Canada any time while their visa is valid, Ms. Strickland said.
Overseas applicants will have to apply online for a Canadian visitor visa and provide their biometric data – which includes fingerprints and a photo.
Ukrainian workers, students and visitors, as well as their family members already in Canada, can either apply to extend their visitor status or work permit for three years, apply for a new work or study permit, or extend their existing permit.
All application fees are being waived.
On the shift to three years, Ihor Michalchyshyn, executive director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said in a statement, “We view it positively.”
But Mr. Michalchyshyn said there’s a need for additional funding and support to make the transition to Canada work.
“Our community is committed to working with the government to welcome and support these Ukrainians,” he said.
The UN refugee agency says three million people have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion.
This week, Canada’s border agency said 3,368 Ukrainians have arrived in Canada in that time.
Meanwhile, the federal government is under pressure to lower barriers for Ukrainians coming to Canada via such measures as lifting visa requirements and co-ordinating a special airlift from the region.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not ruled out the airlift option. “If there is sufficient demand that requires us to do more like sending airlifts, we will look at that,” Mr. Trudeau said during a news conference this week.
Earlier this month, Mr. Fraser said the government has looked at waiving visa requirements, but decided against the option because it would take 12 to 14 weeks to make the change.
Conservative MP Jasraj Singh Hallan, the party’s opposition critic, said he was happy for the people of Ukraine that the minister was able to deliver on his timeline announcing the launch of a new temporary resident pathway.
“However, I continue to share the frustration I hear from far too many immigrants facing our broken immigration system’s endless backlogs, red tape and inflexibility; including Afghan refugees who are still waiting on previous special immigration programs promised by this government to fast track them into Canada,” Mr. Hallan said in a statement.
NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the extension of the program to three years is a positive development.
“I would welcome that change so that people would have a longer time to contemplate their plans, and whether or not they want to stay in Canada or return to Ukraine when the conflict is over,” Ms. Kwan said in an interview.
However, Ms. Kwan said she is concerned that the government still requires people to go through a visa process, with the challenge of securing access to sites to provide their biometric data.
She said visa-free travel would be the best approach for the government to pursue because it would allow Ukrainians to fly to Canada without going through this process.
Ms. Kwan noted that, for example, Ireland implemented visa-free travel for Ukrainians within a few days.
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