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The COVID-19 pandemic, and the many governmental restrictions imposed in response, has had a dramatic impact on Canada’s temporary foreign worker immigration program. Employers and foreign workers have accordingly been required to tolerate a range of challenges, such as delays, in the processing of permits and additional hurdles to secure entry into Canada. This has resulted in significant insecurity for foreign workers facing the prospect of layoffs or termination of employment.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) has responded to the pandemic challenges by implementing several new measures and policies for temporary foreign workers who are currently in Canada. This includes policies aimed at supporting foreign workers as they transition between employers. 

The purpose of these policy changes (as described below) is to provide temporary foreign workers, who are resident in Canada, the ability to start work with a new employer without delay. Specifically, IRCC is temporarily allowing foreign workers to begin work with a new employer before a final decision on their new work permit application is rendered.

The intention is two-fold: (1) to provide additional flexibility to foreign workers to leave an unhealthy workplace and (2) to support foreign nationals who may have had their employment terminated in connection with the economic downturn as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This new policy represents a marked departure from Canada’s immigration policy which traditionally required foreign workers to secure approval before commencing employment with a new employer. Such approval would often take months, and therefore necessitate significant planning on the foreign worker’s part and patience from their prospective employer. 

While this policy addresses immediate needs relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, it also presents potential long-delayed progress in developing a broader framework to protect foreign workers, who are often more vulnerable to abuse in the labour market than Canadians or permanent residents. 

Special Measures for Switching Employers

IRCC has introduced new measures to allow temporary foreign workers who are in Canada to start employment with a new employer without delay. The measure is specifically available to temporary foreign workers in Canada with a valid work permit who are normally required to secure a new employer-specific work permit before commencing their new role. 

Specifically, and to be eligible to start with a new employer before receiving a response on the application, the foreign national must:

  • Reside in Canada;
  • Hold a valid work permit;
  • Submit a new work permit application (from within Canada) and be waiting for a decision on their application from IRCC; and
  • Intend to work for the employer named in the work permit application.

Eligible individuals must submit a request to immigration for permission to begin employment under the temporary exemption. IRCC aims to process requests and final decisions on work permits, including the issuance of new permits, within ten (10) days of receipt.

Waiver of Biometrics Requirement

To reduce delay and/or disruption to the processing of immigration applications, IRCC has temporarily waived the requirement to provide biometrics for foreign nationals submitting applications from within Canada. This is in direct response to the closure of Service Canada and biometrics collection centres in Canada and many locations globally which have disrupted the processing of background checks.

Specifically, to be eligible for this exemption, a foreign national must:

  • Reside in Canada; and
  • Apply for or have an (in Canada) application pending.

The exemption should assist foreign nationals who are in Canada who have had their employment terminated. Specifically, such individuals now have additional flexibility to start new employment if they can secure a new offer of employment. This is a significant advantage given that processing times on work permit applications submitted in Canada have recently reached approximately one hundred and sixty (160) days or almost six (6) months.    

Contact Sultan Lawyers for Temporary Work Permit Assistance

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed tremendous pressure on Canada’s immigration system. This has, and continues, to present significant hardship on both foreign workers and their Canadian employers. While it is reasonable to argue that the Canadian government’s response has been inadequate, we are encouraged that there have been some interim measures aimed at addressing the most severe pain points.

These are the first steps of what we hope is a series of meaningful efforts aimed at supporting Canada’s foreign worker program. Such measures are aimed at ensuring that Canadian employers have access to the critical skills needed to support the country’s recovery and growth. It can also help to reduce the incidence of terminations of employment and associated disruptions relating to dismissal. 

If you are a foreign worker who has had your employment terminated and are looking for support, whether in relation to securing support to transition to alternative employment and/or to securing continued status in Canada (whether on a temporary or permanent basis), contact Toronto employment and workplace immigration lawyers, Sultan Lawyers, at 416-214-5111 or via email to mlahert@sultanlawyers.com.


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