Some asylum seekers who cared for patients in hospitals and long-term care homes at the height of the pandemic last spring will be eligible for permanent residency.
The federal government has reached a compromise with Quebec, where most of the affected asylum seekers live and which has an agreement with Ottawa to oversee immigration, to grant permanent residency if they worked in a hospital, long-term care home or retirement home and meet other eligibility requirements.
The decision would affect about 1,000 people across Canada.
Federal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino made the announcement at 10 a.m. ET in Montreal.
“This is an exceptional measure, in exceptional times, in recognition of exceptional service,” Mendicino said.
Asylum seekers working in hospitals and understaffed care homes risked exposure to COVID-19 — sometimes with fatal consequences — and have come to be known as “guardian angels” in Quebec.
The majority of deaths related to the disease have occurred in the province’s long-term care homes and private seniors’ residences.
To be eligible for permanent residency, asylum seekers must:
- Have applied for asylum before March 13 and have a work permit.
- Have worked in patient care at a health-care institution for at least 120 hours between March 13 and August 14.
- Have six months of experience in patient care at a health-care institution by Aug. 31, 2021.
- Meet other criteria related to permanent residency, notably health and safety requirements.
The federal government had initially envisioned broader eligibility requirements, which would have included other workers in hospitals and care facilities, such as security guards and maintenance staff.
But after weeks of negotiations with Quebec, Ottawa decided to tighten the program. As is the case with all who settle in the province, the asylum seekers will still need a certificat de sélection du Quebec (CSQ) from the province.
Premier François Legault said in May that the province would examine the situation with asylum seekers on a case-by-case basis.
An eligible asylum seeker’s spouse and children will also be granted status under the program.
Montreal-based community group La Maison d’Haiti estimates there are thousands of asylum seekers in the province. The group’s executive director, Marjorie Villefranche, is frustrated that all those who worked in what Quebec defined as essential services during the pandemic are not being included.
“They think that they came here and claimed for asylum the wrong way. It’s like a punishment,” she said of the provincial government.
“They just came because of the law. They couldn’t do anything else.”
Paul Clarke, executive director of Action Réfugiés Montréal, said while it’s always good news when asylum seekers are granted status, this measure does not go far enough.
“There were asylum seekers who were working in warehouses all through the pandemic making sure that there was food at your local Loblaws or Provigo,” he said.
“It’s a time to be generous with people who need protection.”