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Whether you are a foreign worker or an employer of foreign nationals, we know that COVID-19 is having a direct impact on you.

This is because concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 virus have led governments at all levels to take drastic measures, including but not limited to implementing severe restrictions at the Canadian border.

The changes are having a significant negative impact on Canada’s labour market as foreign workers have become a critical component of Canada’s international competitiveness in a range of industries.

The following summarizes the top three (3) ways in which COVID-19 is impacting the labour market in relation to foreign workers.

Severe Restrictions at the Border

To curb the spread of COVID-19, the Government of Canada announced what has been called a “closure” of the Canadian border, however, some important exemptions to this closure have been implemented as of March 26, 2020.

For example, Canada will continue to allow the entry of foreign workers who hold a valid permit and U.S. citizens who are required to enter Canada for essential work. However, it is important to note that all individuals travelling by air, regardless of whether they are considered an essential worker or not, will need to pass a health check before they are allowed to board their flight (presumably at the airport). Anyone exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 will not be allowed to enter Canada by air. Additionally, upon arrival at the port of entry, your health will be assessed again before you can leave.

Further, unless a foreign worker is deemed essential, they will be subject to a strict legally-enforced (14) day quarantine. Contrary to previous measures, the government will aggressively enforce this quarantine including through steps such as on-site house visits by government authorities and power for imprisonment and/or severe financial penalties for non-compliance.

Extending Status While in Canada

Temporary foreign workers currently in Canada will need to ensure that they maintain their immigration status. Contrary to rumours, there will be no amnesty and all foreign nationals in Canada are expected to ensure that they maintain status regardless of COVID-19. Individuals who ignore this requirement will need to leave Canada or risk remaining in Canada illegally.

Immigration is also severely limiting where a foreign national can apply. Specifically, foreign nationals who are in Canada are expected to apply online from within Canada and not to go to the border for the purpose of applying for a work permit as this is not considered essential travel, and they will not receive service. Undoubtedly, this will lead to longer processing times for permits. Foreign nationals will also be expected to remain in Canada at least until the permit is approved, or a decision has been made with respect to the application.

In short, foreign workers should be prepared for longer processing times and be prepared to remain in Canada throughout the process.

Securing Needed Foreign Workers Will Require More Effort

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) continues to accept and process work permit applications.

Having said this, expect delays. Both IRCC and Employment and Social Development Canada will need to manage significant caseloads while managing the challenges surrounding COVID-19.

Further, the fluctuating labour market will inevitably make it harder to demonstrate that there is a genuine need for foreign labour. This is despite the fact that there are chronic shortages of critical skills needed in Canada and, rather than taking opportunities away from Canadians, they strongly complement the labour market and support its growth.

The COVID-19 changes are therefore heightening the importance of properly articulating the need for foreign skills. This is critical to ensure that key sectors of Canada’s economy benefit from critically needed skills.

Finally, getting the foreign workers to Canada will require a careful assessment of recently announced travel restrictions and related exemptions, including managing any rules regarding applying for permits at the border and dealing with related restrictions based on nationality and place of residence.

Bottom line, proper planning and intelligently designed strategies will be key to ensuring access to foreign skilled workers. Further employees will need to be diligent and aware of all rules as they evolve.

If you have any questions about the impact of COVID-19 on immigration status in Canada and/or ensuring necessary access to employment of foreign workers, or if you are a foreign worker managing issues such as disruption in employment because through issues such as layoffs, termination of employment etc., please contact Toronto employment lawyers Sultan Lawyers at mlahert@sultanlawyers.com or here.

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