OTTAWA — The federal government is set to introduce new measures to support Turkish and Syrian foreign nationals whose homeland was devastated last month by earthquakes.
Among the measures to be announced Saturday by immigration minister Sean Fraser is that Syrian and Turkish nationals living here will be more easily able to change the purpose of their stay in Canada.
Normally, individuals holding any temporary visa or residency in Canada would have to leave the country to obtain a work or study permit, but the new measures would allow the affected temporary residents to remain in Canada while they apply for any permit until they are approved.
This will allow them to continue studying, working, or visiting family.
The new measures will also allow Turkish and Syrian temporary residents to apply for an open work permit pathway.
Most foreign nationals need a work permit to work in Canada. An open work permit allows them to work full-time for any valid employer of their choice. There is also an employer-specific work permit, which limits where and how long a foreign national can work.
Two major earthquakes hit the Kahramanmaras district of Turkey on Feb. 6. More than 50,000 people died in Turkey and neighbouring Syria.
Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will also introduce new measures to support those still in the quake-ravaged region.
For the applicants from the affected regions who were already being processed by IRCC, the department will also waive the requirement to hold a passport or travel document to be approved for a permanent-resident visa. Many existing applicants from the region have lost key documents, such as passports, diplomas and bank statements, due to mass destruction, according to immigration consultants.
Canadian citizens and permanent residents who were originally from the region will also be exempt from paying any fees associated with travel documents. If they had to visit their families in the region, they will be able to return to Canada without having to pay for temporary passports, limited validity passports, or emergency travel documents, as well as Canadian citizenship certificates and permanent resident travel documents.
Those fees can range from $7 up to $1,000, depending on the document needed.
“We will continue to closely monitor the needs of people in the region and will adapt our response as needed,” said Bahoz Dara Aziz, the immigration minister’s press secretary.
Ottawa announced last month that it will prioritize the temporary and permanent resident applications of individuals from quake-hit areas, including applications for refugee resettlement. The fast-tracking also included visitor visa applications for immediate family members of Canadian citizens and Canadian permanent residents so they can join their loved ones in Canada.
Turkish and Syrian Canadians had been calling on Ottawa to expedite the visa applications of family stranded in Turkey since the devastating earthquakes.
An online petition signed by more than 9,000 people called on the government to fast-track visa applications from the region under the family reunification stream. This stream has always been open to Turkish and Syrian citizens whose family members are settled in Canada with any immigration status, but according to experts, there has been a backlog in processing for months.
According to the immigration department, up to 16,000 Turkish and Syrian applications were already in the system as of Feb. 8 — two days after the earthquakes struck.
“Approximately 1,700 of these applications (750 permanent residency and 920 temporary residency applications) were within the zone impacted by the earthquakes,” Jeffrey MacDonald, a department spokesperson, previously told the Star.