George Melnyk: How does Canada measure up to other countries in welcoming Ukrainians?

Opinion: The current program is incomplete and leaves a number of crucial areas unaddressed

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The Canada Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program was announced on March 17. The program let Ukrainians who had fled the war (currently over four million) to apply for a special visa that allows them to stay in Canada for up to three years. They can work or study if they wish and children can attend school immediately. The number of such visas is unlimited and there is no fee. As of April 6 Canada has received 112,000 applications and approved more than 26,500, approximately 1,300 approvals per day. .

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What are other countries doing? The first offer of specific help came from the European Union. On March 3 the EU invoked its Temporary Protection Directive (TPD). This directive gives Ukrainians the right to stay from one to three years in an EU member state. They can get residency and work permits, access to education and assistance with medical and housing needs. The TPD was a way of dealing with the unprecedented influx of millions of people into the EU in a matter of a few weeks.

The directive was a way of encouraging them to move beyond the countries that border Ukraine. The EU’s “temporary” concept surfaced two weeks later in Canada’s special visa program. It recognizes that women and children make up 90 per cent of these refugees and that there is a well-founded hope that most of them will return to their homeland and their families once the war ends. This is already happening. The Ukrainian government reported that in the last week in March 144,000 people left Ukraine, while 88,000 returned. Considering the recent withdrawal of Russian forces from Kyiv and other areas the number of returnees will likely only increase.

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In early March the United Kingdom announced a Ukraine family visa scheme for Ukrainians who have family in the UK As of March 29, the UK had issued 22,800 visas under this scheme. A bit later, the UK government announced a new scheme called “Homes for Ukraine” that let people in the UK host Ukrainians refugees. On the first day 100,000 people and organizations registered. The program gives Ukrainians rent-free space for six months. The hosts will be paid a monthly stipend for this. The UK government says that it expects hundreds of thousands to apply. As of March 31 the UK had issued 29,200 visas for both the family visa and the home stay schemes. There have been only 65,000 applications.

On this side of the pond the United States has announced a quota of one hundred thousand Ukrainian refugees. The announcement came a week after Canada’s and included over $1 billion in humanitarian aid. Ukrainians will enter the country through various visa programs plus the US Refugee Admissions Program. The Americans will recognize them as genuine refugees, which means that they will not be “temporary” visitors unless they want to be.

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How does Canada’s program measure up to the initiatives from these other countries? Canada has made a speedy start in processing visa applications and it is planning to announce a family reunification program for Ukrainians as well. Those approved for family reunification should be able to enter Canada as permanent residents. Of course, processing for this status will take longer than temporary residence visas.

There are issues with the current temporary residence visas. Will Canada face a spate of in-country refugee claims once the visas expire? What about the cost of getting to Canada? Who pays for that? In the past refugees granted permanent residence in Canada had their flights paid by the government. This was a loan that required repayment. No such program exists at the moment for Ukrainians. Nor is there any program, like that of the UK’s, that subsidizes those who are sheltering Ukrainians in Canada.

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And there is the issue of whether provincial governments will help with medical care. Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario and Saskatchewan have said that those with the new emergency visa will get medical care. bc you have announced that anyone in the CUAET program who has a six-month or longer work permit is eligible to apply.

Uncertainty for the visa holders and potential complications for Canada’s already stressed refugee-adjudication process means the current program is incomplete. It’s time to change that. All this means uncertainty for the visa holders and potential complications for an already stressed refugee-adjudication process.

Canada is an important player in dealing with a tragedy involving millions. The current program is incomplete and leaves a number of crucial areas unaddressed. It’s time to change that.

George Melnyk is co-editor of Finding Refuge in Canada: Narratives of Dislocation (2021).

Letters to the editor should be sent to [email protected]. The editorial pages editor is Hardip Johal, who can be reached at [email protected].

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