International conflict can shape Canadian immigration law and policy

Specific Canadian immigration, refugee and asylum programs may be created in response to armed conflicts around the world that increase the need for people to return home to Canada or immigrate for the first time.

At the time of this writing in Jan. 2024, the Israel-Hamas and Russia-Ukraine wars are showing no signs of ending. In wartime, movement of civilians across international borders is a natural consequence of increased danger. People in warzones want to get their loved ones and themselves to safer countries. Family members already abroad seek legal options for their relatives to join them.

Or, someone physically in Canada from an area of conflict may face the expiration of their permission to be here (such as through a visa or permit) or face removal or deportation. When returning could put them in danger, there may be legal grounds to seek an extension or alternative basis to stay.

Investigate regular immigration solutions

People in active conflict zones (or who fear returning to one) who are considering Canada as a temporary or permanent home can investigate the normal options for entry or remaining. For example, they may potentially qualify for:

  • Permanent residence
  • Citizenship
  • Sponsorship by a spouse, partner, parent, grandparent, child or other eligible relative who is a Canadian permanent resident or citizen
  • Asylum
  • Refugee status
  • Federal skilled work programs
  • Humanitarian and compassionate grounds (H&C)
  • Temporary stays under visas or permits such as for students, visitors, tourists or temporary residents
  • And others

In response to the current conflicts, the federal agency Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has created special immigration arrangements to relieve affected populations.

Impacted people who do not qualify for a special program may find a regular immigration process could provide relief.

Ukraine immigration policies

According to the IRCC website, “hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and their loved ones” have arrived in Canada since the Russians invaded. Initially, Canada offered Ukrainians temporary visa applications under the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency (CUAET) program, but July 15, 2023, was the last day to apply. Thousands of people granted these visas are not yet in Canada and have until March 31, 2024, to arrive and receive certain supports under this program.

March 31, 2024, is also the last day for those here on CUAET visas to apply for special temporary extensions to stay like open work permits, study permits or in some cases three-year extensions.

Since Oct. 23, 2023, a temporary policy allows certain Ukrainians present in Canada and their family members already here or still outside the country to apply for permanent residence.

Middle East immigration programs

The IRCC website states that Canada is assisting its citizens and permanent residents along with certain family members to leave Gaza, the West Bank or Israel. Family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents who fled Israel or the Palestinian Territories since Oct. 7, 2023, when the conflict began, may apply for open work or study permits.

Certain relatives of Canadian citizens or permanent residents who are present in Gaza may be eligible for “special measures to support temporary residence,” according to the IRCC. Eligibility for a three-year temporary resident visa (TRV) is complicated and requires that the Canadian citizen or permanent resident support the relative for a year after arrival. The family member may also apply for a study or open work permit.

This TRV program is limited to the first 1,000 applications or one year, whichever is earlier.

Important takeaways

***PLEASE NOTE: Programs to assist people in or with loved ones in areas of conflict are subject to change and new options may become available. We are not able to explore every potential program here.

Time can be of the essence. Speaking to an immigration lawyer as soon as possible – but at any stage of the immigration process – can make a difference. The permanent and temporary immigration processes and policies are extremely complex. A lawyer will be aware of current developments and changes, and detailed eligibility requirements.

A lawyer can assist with a visa or other application and, if necessary, with a hearing or appeal. Anyone concerned about entering Canada or about loved ones abroad in a conflict zone should consult a lawyer who can analyze their circumstances in light of legal options.