Ukrainians who fled to Canada as a result of the war are now seeking safety in Canada under a temporary visa program are now asking Ottawa to settle here permanently, by the tens of thousands.
In February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, prompting the Canadian government to enact the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET), which allowed an unlimited number of Ukrainians to come to Canada and stay for up to three years.
Over 21,000 Ukrainians have come to Canada since the CUAET was implemented and the majority of them do not want to return home, according to an advocacy group for Ukrainians displaced by the war, called Pathfinders for Ukraine.
An additional 726,000 Ukrainians are approved for arrival in Canada but haven’t yet come, according to data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Between Sept. 5-12, 1,200 Ukrainian families were asked about their future plans for a survey conducted by Pathfinders, which revealed about 90% of them want to become permanent residents.
When asked what they would do if the war ended immediately, 79% of respondents said they would still rather stay in Canada.
“According to our data, 76 per cent of them are employed, and that is even better than the [43 per cent] employment level for those in Europe,” said Pathfinders executive director Randall Baran-Chong in an interview with the Globe and Mail.
“The ones who came here want to create a better future for their children and they want to work,” said Baran-Chong, who noted that the temporary visas are set to expire in the next 18 months for many of those people.
“For employers, if they know you have a year and a half left on your visa, they will not necessarily want to invest in training or promote you,” he said. “There is also the anxiety about being displaced again. Forty-five per cent of the people we spoke to have children in school, so the prospect of pulling their kids out of school again is worrisome.”
Baran-Chong wants Ottawa to extend the program and create a new avenue for Ukrainians to acquire permanent residence outside of the regular federal and provincial criteria, as many will not qualify under those economic migrant programs.
“For example, if you are over the age of 30, your points are going to be significantly diminished, and about 60 per cent of the war displaced Ukrainians are over the age of 30,” said Baran-Chong.
However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that he wants Ukrainians who have fled to other countries to return home after the war, so that they can help rebuild the economy.
“And so, as an ally, I think it would be careless not to take that into consideration and perhaps provide the pathways for people to make that decision,” said Immigration Minister Marc Miller.
Other Western nations like Norway and Switzerland have offered to pay Ukrainian refugees to return home.
Miller said Ukrainians do have rights in Canada and therefore would not be forced to return to a war zone.
“I think you have to look into a family or an individual’s particular context and their rights as people that are on Canadian territory – and they do have them,” he said. “You can’t remove someone into a war zone. And you can’t force people against their will when they have real rights in Canada – that is just reality.”
The government of Saskatchewan has adjusted its immigration nominee program to prioritize Ukrainians who want to settle in the province, which already has a large Ukrainian community, welcoming about 5,600 since the war began.
“The Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program [SINP] prioritizes the processing of applications from Ukrainians and has nominated just over 150 Ukrainian applicants since the war broke out,” said Nipun Taneja, a spokesperson for Saskatchewan’s immigration department.
“In November, 2023, the province made it possible for more displaced Ukrainians to settle permanently in Saskatchewan by expanding eligibility requirements under the Existing Work Permit stream of the SINP.”