This guest article was authored by Olha Senyshyn, Immigration, Refugee and Family Lawyer at CGS LAW; Ksenia Tchern, Lawyer at Abramovich and Tchern Immigration Lawyers; and, Irina Maimust, Articling Student at Abramovich and Tchern Immigration Lawyers.
The Canada Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel program (CUAET) was created by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) in response to the humanitarian crisis created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Those applying under CUAET can benefit from speedier processing times, an extended stay of up to three years, as well as the opportunity to obtain an open work permit to allow them to support themselves while in Canada, or study permits – for those who would like to study during their stay in Canada.
IRCC has received over 180,903 applications via CUAET, and that number continues to rise as Ukrainians continue to flee their war-ridden nation. CUAET is a great initiative launched by IRCC in unprecedented times, however, Ukrainian nationals are experiencing a number of challenges as they attempt to navigate the program’s requirements.
Ukrainian nationals applying for CUAET visas are required to provide their biometric data. As the war continues, it is not safe for Visa Application Centers to operate in Ukraine, thus applicants have no choice but to travel outside of Ukraine for biometric collection. Finding and booking available appointments has been a challenge at some locations due to technical difficulties and a high demand for this service.
IRCC has recently simplified biometric requirements for Ukrainians and exempted certain individuals from providing biometrics. Those not exempt (generally speaking, all applicants over 18 and under 60 years old), will not have their application processed until the biometric data is provided.
Overall, biometric appointment booking as well as passport submission processes vary depending on the location of a Visa Application Center (VAC). As such, we have seen that many applicants have experienced difficulties with navigating themselves through the process, as many VACs have limited information available on their websites. The applicants have also expressed concerns with inability to contact certain VACs to clarify how passport submission process works. To address this issue, the creation of a line of communication or a helpline could be a solution as it would allow Ukrainian nationals to get help with submitting their passports for a counterfoil as well as with biometric appointment booking.
The lack of uniformity and a general increase in processing times for CUAET applicants is an area of growing concern. At the launch of the program, a 14-day processing standard was advertised. Yet, many applicants are currently waiting for visa approvals from 3 to 6 weeks, and subsequently for visa counterfoils to be affixed in passports for additional 4 to 6 weeks. This means that in some cases it can take more than 10 weeks for a Ukrainian national to be in a position to travel to Canada under the program. In addition, when it comes to family groups, despite applications being submitted together, approvals are often issued weeks apart, which creates stress, and complicates travel arrangements.
To address processing delays, IRCC has recently announced a foil-less visa option, allowing those who have had their CUAET applications approved to travel to Canada without obtaining a passport counterfoil. While we applaud this measure, as with many things CUAET-related, clearer messaging regarding this option would help applicants make more informed decisions. Furthermore, this measure would benefit from better cooperation between IRCC and CBSA in ensuring that foil-less visa holders obtain either a Visitor Record, Work, or Study permit upon arrival which will serve as a status document. Those who are for some reason not issued such a document at the Port of Entry, should be allowed to submit their passport to an inland office, and provided with clear instructions on how to do so.
In addition, the introduction of real-time application tracking tools, combined with visa-post specific processing times will allow applicants to plan their lives and greatly reduce stress levels. In the absence of such solutions, periodic updates regarding processing times as well clearer messaging regarding processing delays will enable applicants to make better decisions and plan their next steps.
Access to Social Services and Support
Lastly, there seems to be some confusion regarding access to social services and financial support for Ukrainians utilizing CUAET. Given that the program is designed to assist those fleeing war, many Ukrainian nationals presume that upon arrival to Canada, they will be provided with government-funded social support, analogous to that offered by some EU countries. We have heard of instances of families arriving at Pearson airport and asking CBSA about their near-term accommodation.
In addition, while some provinces announced that the healthcare will be extended to Ukrainians arriving or remaining in Canada under CUAET, there is more to be done in terms of having uniform instructions and implementation.
We believe that clearer messaging regarding the nature of the program and support to be expected as well as better coordination between the Federal Government and the provinces on issues like access to healthcare will go a long way in providing help to Ukrainian nationals.