OTTAWA – Humanitarian groups that have been supporting Ukrainian refugees are calling on Ottawa to extend a special immigration program that allows people fleeing Ukraine to temporarily live, work and study in Canada.
The program provides Ukrainians and their families with a visa to stay in Canada for up to three years while they figure out their next steps, but applications are due to close on March 31.
As of Jan. 29, more than 150,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Canada since the Russian invasion of their country last year.
More than 800,000 people have applied under the unique emergency program that gives the refugees temporary status and supports in Canada, which falls outside of more-structured programs for other refugees and prospective permanent residents.
Four organizations that represent Canadian volunteers, hosts and sponsors have written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Immigration Minister Sean Fraser, asking them to keep the door open beyond the planned deadline.
Pathfinders for Ukraine, North America for Ukraine, 4Ukraine.ca and Safe Passage 4 Ukraine have been working to help refugees navigate the immigration system and settle in Canada.
“A swift extension announcement can allay fears and anxieties of the ‘closing of the door’ on March 31, with over 200,000 applicants awaiting decisions,” the groups wrote in the letter.
They told Trudeau and Fraser that there is misinformation spreading online about the program’s fate, and a formal extension would put the minds of Ukrainians to rest.
They are also asking that the one-time financial supports the government has been providing to Ukrainian newcomers continue past June, when they are set to expire.
Each adult who arrives under the emergency program can apply for $3,000 to help get them on their feet, as well as $1,500 per child.
Those supports have been critical for people to make it through their first few months in Canada, said Ihor Michalchyshyn, the CEO of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. Many people left Ukraine with little more than a backpack, he said.
“That helps them cover rent, buy winter clothes,” Michalchyshyn said in an interview last month.
Fraser’s press secretary Bahoz Dara Aziz said in a statement that the minister looks forward to giving an update on the future of the program soon.
“Canada remains committed to supporting those affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” she said.
The four settlement groups suggested the government use seized Russian assets to fund the continued support for displaced Ukrainians in Canada.
“These proceeds could be used to support Ukrainians with income support, housing subsidies and/or education grants at the federal, provincial and local levels,” they wrote in the letter.
The suggestion comes amid questions about the effectiveness of Canada’s sanctions regime.
The Canadian Press reported last week that the amount of funds the RCMP listed as seized had hardly changed between June and December last year, despite hundreds more people associated with Russia being put on the sanctions list. The RCMP did not provide an explanation for that.