Canada extends emergency travel program for Ukrainians fleeing war
Nearly a million Ukrainians have applied to the program in the past year
The federal government is extending a program that temporarily resettles Ukrainians fleeing the war with Russia in Canada.
Ukrainians will now have until July 15, 2023, to apply to the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program. The program was set to expire on March 31.
It's a special measure that allows Ukrainians, and their family members of any nationality, to settle in Canada for up to three years. CUAET allows successful applicants to apply for work and study permits free of charge.
Russia and Ukraine have been at war since 2014, but Russia stepped up its invasion significantly in February 2022. The federal government has provided military, financial and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and has slapped sanctions on thousands of Russians and Russian entities.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser made the announcement Wednesday.
"We're going to closely monitor the ongoing needs of Ukrainians and Ukraine, to see how we can continue to lend our support and help win this war," Fraser told a news conference.
The government has received just under a million applications to the program since it began in March 2022, and has approved 616,429 of them. Over 133,000 people have arrived in Canada through the program.
Fraser said the temporary nature of the program aligns with what Ukrainians want.
"When I speak to the vast majority of Ukrainians who've arrived here, their hope is that Ukraine is going to win this war. They want to go home one day," Fraser said.
"To create a program that allows them to have temporary safe haven in Canada, while we await the circumstances on the ground becoming safe one day for people to return, has allowed us to help tens of thousands of people more than what otherwise would have been the case under a traditional refugee resettlement model."
Fraser did not say whether the government would extend the program if the war continues beyond July 15. He said it will monitor the situation.
Ukrainians in Canada welcome extension
Kseniia Chystiakova, who is from a suburb of Kyiv, applied to CUAET just days after it launched in March 2022. She now lives in Winnipeg with her husband, son and mother.
Chystiakova's father is in Germany because his application hasn't been approved yet, and Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) hasn't offered an explanation. Her mother, who did get approved, initially stayed with her husband but came to Canada last week as the March 31 deadline came closer.
But Chystiakova said she's happy about the extension because it gives her father some time to get approved.
"I want them to be near us and to see their grandchild, but still we have hope that everything will be okay," she said.
Chystiakova works at a staffing agency helping other Ukrainians find work. Her husband, who is not a Ukrainian citizen, is taking language classes and her son is enrolled in a local school.
"It's a really great opportunity for him and for his future," Chystiakova said.
"I think that we will stay here."
Fraser made the announcement at Café Ukraine in Ottawa. The community cafe provides services, including language classes, to newcomer Ukrainians and host families.
"We're only able to provide the support for Ukrainians because the government of Canada has generously opened the door for Ukrainians to come and find safe harbour here," Yaroslav Baran, Café Ukraine's co-founder, said at the announcement.
"The announcement that you've made today is a continuation of a long tradition, 130 years, of generous opening of doors by Canada to Ukrainians."
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) welcomed the government's announcement.
"Our community is also grateful to the thousands of Canadians from coast to coast to coast who have opened their hearts and their homes to Ukrainians, the volunteers who work tirelessly to welcome Ukrainians in cities and towns across Canada, and the settlement services which deliver essential programs and supports," Alexandra Chyczij, the UCC's national president, said in a media statement.
"With increased support from allies like Canada, this year can be the year that the Russian armies are driven out of Ukraine and peace returns to Europe."
Iain Reeve, associate director for immigration research at The Conference Board of Canada, said CUAET has brought new workers into Canada at a time when the country is facing a labour shortage.
"The Ukrainians come with a really wide variety of skills that can fit really well into a lot of available positions across Canada," Reeve said.
"We see the enthusiasm that a lot of communities have had to welcome people, not just for the really obvious humanitarian benefits, but also because they see the potential labour market and economic benefits of welcoming Ukrainians — even if it is only on a temporary basis."
But Reeve said the government will have to think carefully about the future of those coming in through the program.
"There's a balance to be struck between not wanting to bring a bunch of people here under very difficult circumstances and maybe rob Ukraine of exactly the people that they'll want to have back in the country to help rebuild once the conflict is hopefully over," he said.
"But at the same time, if people want to stay in Canada, maybe we want to try to give them options to do that."
With files from Karen Pauls