Around 1,300 national exemptions to COVID-19 border restrictions given out: officials

 

OTTAWA -- Immigration officials say the federal government granted 1,300 national interest exemptions during the COVID-19 pandemic to allow people into Canada who don't qualify under current border restrictions. 

The Canadian border has been closed since March to all but a specific list of people, albeit one that has grown longer as the pandemic has continued. 

Among those allowed in are essential workers and certain family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents.

Broadly, those whose travel is considered optional or discretionary aren't allowed in, but exemptions can be made if certain ministers sign off on the plan.

Among those who have benefited: pro hockey and baseball players, though basketball players were recently denied. 

The exemption has also been used to admit high-profile U.S. executives, which has prompted heated debate over who, exactly, gets to access the exemptions and why.

The number of exemptions that have been granted so far was disclosed at a House of Commons immigration committee meeting Wednesday.

Federal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino was pressed by MPs over all the various ways the pandemic has hammered the immigration system. 

He was grilled on what appears to be a breakdown in a promise to review, within 14 days, applications for cross-border travel by family members, a policy announced with much fanfare earlier this fall after months of pressure by affected families.

NDP MP Jenny Kwan said she was aware of at least 100 people who have not had their files approved within that 14 days. Conservative MP Raquel Dancho said she had a list of her own. 

Mendicino promised to review the cases the two MPs mentioned.

"Our goal here is to reunite as many families as possible," he said. 

Kwan also pointed to the thousands of people stuck overseas with expired documents that keep needing to be renewed, but who can't get that to happen. She also mentioned the situation of some postgraduate students in Canada facing a similar problem.

Mendicino said no student will get expelled because their permits have expired.

"We recognize that COVID-19 has caused disruption," he said.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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