Canada is expected to close applications for temporary emergency visas offered to Ukrainians fleeing Russian aggression Saturday – but hasn’t announced whether it plans to offer long-term refuge.
Canada launched the emergency visa after the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year as millions of people fled the embattled country.
The visa is available to an unlimited number of Ukrainians and allows them to work and study in Canada for three years while they figure out their next steps. Those who’ve come to Canada using the emergency visa aren’t given refugee status in Canada, and instead are considered temporary residents.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser extended the program in March as the war stretched into its second year. The extended application period ends July 15.
More than 1.1 million people have applied and more 800,000 visas have been approved as of July 1, though only about 21 per cent of the visa holders have actually come to Canada.
Ukrainians who have already been granted the visa will still be able to come to Canada until the end of March 2024.
The government extended settlement services that are typically reserved for refugees and other permanent residents to Ukrainians with an emergency visa, and those services will still be offered until the end of March 2025.
“We are waiting to hear what the government decides will be the new, July 16 and onward parameters for Ukrainians to come to Canada,” said Ukrainian Canadian Congress executive director Ihor Michalchyshyn.
“Even though there’s a very large number of people who have applied _ over a million people have applied thus far _ there’s still potentially some that haven’t or whose situation may change and might need a temporary refuge.”
Last month, the immigration minister said Ukrainians could apply through traditional immigration streams while the government considers the best long-term plan.
The congress has urged the government to find ways for people to continue to come to Canada to work while they wait out the war.
“Our view is that there should be open work permits for anybody who continues to apply to come to Canada, as well as some supports in terms of services and language,” Michalchyshyn said.
He has also asked the government to continue to prioritize applications from Ukraine to hasten people to safety.
More than 6.3 million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded by the United Nations Refugee Agency, and more than five million are estimated to be displaced within Ukraine itself.
Michalchyshyn said the war is not over and is unlikely to end soon, so it’s important to give people some certainty about their options.
“Nobody knows how long the war will go and how long people will be watching this situation to see if they can go home or not,” he said.
“We’re looking forward to clarity, because that will help people make choices and decisions.”
The federal government also promised to offer permanent residency to Ukrainians with family ties to Canada. Fraser said last month that the program would launch soon, but he has yet to make an announcement.
“We’re hoping and waiting and we’re overdue to hear from the federal government about a family reunification pathway. That’s something we are eager to hear more about, because there have been people bringing their parents and siblings over,” Michalchyshyn said.
People who are already in Canada with an emergency visa will have until March 31, 2024 to apply to extend or change their temporary status in the country.
© 2023 The Canadian Press