Lawyer and immigration specialist Raj Sharma, founding partner at Calgary firm Stewart Sharma Harsanyi, stated in an interview that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a unique impact on "every business line of immigration". He also said that it presented a challenge and an opportunity for government and characterized a shift to a paperless application process as a "silver lining". Sharma testified before a federal standing committee that the pandemic has caused unprecedented disruptions to the immigration system, including remote work for IRCC workers, suspension of visitor visa applications, and delays in processing submitted applications. Sharma also mentioned that the pandemic has shown the importance of front-line workers, and that there should be greater employment mobility and a clear pathway to permanent residency for essential and front-line workers. He also pointed out subtle discrimination in the immigration system that has been impacted by the pandemic, with racialized communities being disproportionately affected.
I was interviewed for an article on the impact of the pandemic on immigration policy.
Raj Sharma – lawyer, immigration specialist, and founding partner at Calgary firm Stewart Sharma Harsanyi – said in an interview that the uniqueness of COVID, and its impact on “every business line of immigration”, made it stand out.
“COVID presented a challenge and an opportunity for government,” said Sharma, who recently authored the immigration law book Inadmissibility and Remedies with Aris Daghighian. Among COVID’s “silver linings” was a shift to a paperless application process, said Sharma.
In November 2020, Sharma made a presentation to the federal Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. He reported to the standing committee that “COVID-19 has caused an unprecedented disruption to our immigration system…IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) was caught flat-footed, as were we all.” Among the areas affected:
- IRCC workers having to work remotely
- the suspension of visitor visa applications, biometrics, and medical examinations for months
- the separation of families by borders or travel logistics
- the delay of citizenship ceremonies and landings for permanent residents
- significant delays in processing submitted applications
“There was and continues to be massive uncertainty as immigration policy is being made almost daily via websites,” Sharma told the standing committee. He continued:
COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of front-line workers. During this pandemic we continue to exploit and put migrant agricultural workers and new immigrants in harm’s way. Persons of colour and new immigrants are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 because they are also disproportionately on the front lines as health care workers and essential workers in transit and in meat and agricultural processing … There should be greater employment mobility and a clear pathway to permanent residency for all essential and front-line workers irrespective of whether they are in so-called low-skill jobs. This change can be made easily through expanding the existing express entry system.
According to Sharma, subtle discrimination exists in the immigration system, and this has been impacted by the pandemic. “Different groups are impacted in different ways (especially with) some community-sponsored family members. The impact is felt disproportionately among racialized communities because racialized communities have family members back home.”
The article itself, written by John Cooper, provides an excellent overview of the current and future challenges that IRCC faces in the face of and in the wake of COVID-19.