Speaking Notes for the Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: Updates on how displaced Ukrainians arriving in Canada will be supported after their arrival

Speech

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser provide updates on how displaced Ukrainians arriving in Canada will be supported after their arrival.

Ottawa, Ontario

April 13, 2022

As delivered

Thank you for having me here today. 

Look, I got to say the last number of weeks have been just extraordinary to watch unfold for the worst possible reason. We've seen a war of aggression launched by Vladimir Putin, with a further invasion into Ukraine, challenging the territorial integrity, sovereignty and right to self-determination of the Ukrainian people. This is the kind of thing that I recall studying out of academic interest, but to now be living it with such a real time practical application is horrifying beyond words. If I take any silver lining from the last few weeks of my experience serving as Canada's Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, it's that Canadians, not just at the different levels of government or the settlement sector, but Canadians in our communities from every corner of this country have said that we want to do our part. 

There's no question in my mind, to Chris's point, that Canada is the very best in the world when it comes to resettling; people for humanitarian purposes, but this latest challenge is like nothing we've ever seen. This need to respond in real time to people who are seeking a temporary safe haven is not something that our systems that pre-existed this war of aggression, were designed to do. We've invented from scratch a temporary protection model and I like the way you describe it, sort of build it as you go.

When you invent something new to respond to a crisis, you understand that there are obstacles that reveal themselves along the way and you have to adjust as you go. And I've been so proud, so proud of the way that I've seen, seen our government, provincial governments, local governments and Canadians adjust. 

Canada continues to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country against this attack by Vladimir Putin. Canada has responded quickly, and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has taken several steps to support the people of Ukraine.

I think back to the early days of our planning for this particular crisis. We, in the middle of January, January 19th to be more precise, started preparing with an internal task force to IRCC. We began an operational readiness mission by putting biometric kits and human resources in the region to deal with the potential influx of people into Europe to the west of Ukraine who might be seeking to come to Canada. We made a decision at that time to waive all the fees associated with Canada's immigration process for Ukrainian nationals. We extended the ability of people who were already in Canada to stay here so they wouldn't be forced to go back at the end of their study permit or work permit. 

We also started expediting every application that was in our system that was attached to a Ukrainian national, but we knew that we needed to do more. And that's why we created the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel to provide a temporary safe haven to people who were seeking to find safe haven, but wanted to go back when it's safe for them to do so. I'm very pleased to share that this program launched on March 17th, had a two-week processing period. The first approvals started to come in, of course, with that math at the end of March. Since that time, there have now been 41,000 Ukrainians who've been approved to come under this new expedited immigration program. 

This is a big deal. This is an expedited pathway to Canada for Ukrainians that provides for a three-year stay. It can be attached to a work permit or a study permit for those who need it. And the children who come are going to be able to go to school, and they're going to have access to work and study opportunities. This is a really interesting program as well though because we started to bump into unique challenges along the way. We realized that the migration flow, when you're dealing with more than four million people who fled their country in a matter of weeks, is unpredictable. We're watching in real time where people are moving to and where biometrics applications are being made from, and we're adjusting accordingly by sending new teams and new resources to different cities across Europe, where we're seeing large numbers of applications. 

We've seen changes not only to the locations of our biometrics kits and human resources, but also to the requirements. On the advice of security experts, we made a decision to waive the biometrics requirements for certain low-risk cohorts: kids under 18, people over 60 years old and people who have a demonstrated history of travel to and from Canada. We've now made decisions in certain instances to not require a physical foil on your visa so we can reduce the number of times in certain locations if people are, are actually needing to come by a visa application centre. 

For people who showed up without having proper passports, we've been able to issue single journey travel documents. And now one of the unique facets of this particular set of circumstances, is, that differentiates it from any other traditional refugee resettlement programs, is we're not dealing with tens or hundreds of thousands people who are sitting in one particular location after they've been approved to Canada, just waiting for a flight to arrive. After people have been approved, they've been travelling to wherever they can find safety throughout Europe. And we're now reaching out to everyone who's been approved to figure out what their travel plans are, when they intend to travel, where they intend to leave from and where they plan to arrive so that we can be better prepared for them when they do get here. 

You know, it's, one of the things that, that Chris focused on was the fact that we had to not just invent a new way to approve people to get here but to support them after they arrive, even though most Ukrainians are arriving as temporary residents. We announced recently that we were going to extend settlement support for all Ukrainians coming to Canada under these programs, in recognition of the special circumstances that they're facing. This means that they're going to have access to key services to help them settle into their new communities. This includes things like language training, employment assistance, information about how to put your kids in school. 

You know, communities know, settlement agencies in communities know how to help people settle in those communities best. Sometimes, it's the formal things like language training, sometimes it's about teaching people how to ride the bus in their new neighbourhood, figuring out how to sign their kids up for the local soccer team, providing child care opportunities while their parents are taking language training classes. It's going to help people find a job that's going to include services for women, for seniors, for youth, the LGBTQ2+ community. This is really meaningful stuff and I want to give a big thank you to Canada's settlement sector. It's extremely meaningful. 

For this, we rely on more than 550 settlement services agencies across Canada who are mobilizing to play a key role in supporting Ukrainians after their arrival.

I also want to highlight that this month, the Red Cross, with support from the Government of Canada, is providing Ukrainians with arrival packages, beginning with Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton at the airports. These packages include key information on supports and services as well as information in Ukrainian for people who've arrived. I actually had the opportunity, when I landed at YVR earlier today, my first meeting of the day was at the bottom of the escalator; I went, went down and saw the Red Cross was set up providing these services. 

I met people who were, have the capacity to provide first aid, to provide psychosocial mental health support, people who were taking information about what skills people had so they could match them with job opportunities in their community, providing people with information about how to sign up for bank accounts and Social Insurance Numbers. These are the kinds of things that are going to ensure people don't just get here, but are set up for success once they arrive. 

We're also working, I should point out, despite the fact that the focus has been on this temporary residency program, a special family reunification pathway for permanent residents and I hope to have details to share in the weeks ahead. 

This is what we have to do. We know that coming to live in a new country even temporarily is not easy. And we will continue to look for ways to further support Ukrainians after they’ve arrived.

We know we can continue to do more and last weekend, you may have seen at the Stand Up for Ukraine pledging event, which was co-chaired by the Prime Minister. He announced additional supports for Ukrainians who were fleeing the conflict, this illegal war that's been conducted by Vladimir Putin. And for those who are arriving under the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel, we're also establishing six weeks of income support for people after they arrive. We're making sure that we have charter flights that's going to help people arrive in Canada and we're also going to extend two weeks of temporary hotel accommodations for those who might not have suitable arrangements right when they arrive so they know they can get here safely and rely on some of the supports that exist in the community going forward. 

I would also like to thank our provincial and territorial partners who have mobilized to provide Ukrainians with access to health care and education.

Your support alongside the support of resettlement organizations across Canada has been instrumental in making sure that those who are fleeing this war are supported before they get here and after they arrive. I'm really, really thrilled. It's not just my opening joke with Nathan here, but to see the provinces step up the way that they have, to see the settlement sector step up the way that they have, to see the settlement sector step up the way they have. This has been a Team Canada effort from day one. Everyone, regardless of which level of government or partisan stripe has put up their hand and say we want to do our part. Let's work together to do it effectively. 

I just get the sense that no matter where a Ukrainian national is going to arrive in Canada, with the new website being launched today, they're going to be able to access the critical information on emergency housing, on health care, where to apply for a SIN card, where to search for jobs and (inaudible) with an open work permit, bringing together all the players across Canada on a weekly basis to identify the remaining gaps and to problem solve together is a very Canadian thing to do. Whether it's the approach that we've seen here in BC with the United Way or the approach in Toronto being coordinated by COSTI and the City of Toronto, each province is developing an approach that works in their jurisdiction in partnership with the local settlement agencies that know their communities best and also in partnership with the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress provincial chapters. 

It is much more than a website. It is an essential service for Ukrainians seeking a safe haven. 

I want to say thank you to the settlement sector across the entire country for once again stepping up to support newcomers in need at a time when I know they're still working very hard to deal with an influx of Afghan refugees, some of who I had the opportunity to meet yesterday afternoon in Halifax. And refugees who are coming to Canada from all around the world, this is all happening very quickly, so I'd ask those who are affected to continue to watch details as they emerge. We continue to respond in real time to the challenges that reveal themselves and we're going to continue to keep people informed by sharing information as it becomes available. 

However, I'm very confident so far that the actions that we're taking demonstrate our ongoing and determined support for the people of Ukraine. I want to say a final thank you to anyone who may be watching in who's put up their hand to say that they want to help in their own community. I know my mom's one of them, is looking forward to welcome a family in our, our community after all six of her kids have moved out. And it feels like the most prototypical Canadian thing. And to have an opportunity to play a small part, and this is a privilege and something that I'm going to keep with me for my entire life. But I can't do it alone, the federal government can't do it alone and with partners in the provincial level and the settlement sector, I know we're going to do it together and we're going to do it well. Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be with you today.

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