Less talk, more action on visas for war refugees, Ukrainian-Canadians urge Liberals

Despite Thursday’s promise to streamline immigration for those fleeing war-torn Ukraine, Canada still refuses to waive mandatory visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens

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While Russia and Ukraine discuss “humanitarian corridors” for those seeking refuge from war, those with loved ones caught in the crossfire want Canada to stop talking and take action.


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Thursday dawned with new plans by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to establish expedited immigration streams for those fleeing Russian invaders, but Canadians with Ukrainian family members in danger are finding little comfort in more press releases and promises for action.

“So many people thought (Thursday’s announcement) was a win, but it’s not,” said Volodymyr Palagniuk, whose parents face an uncertain future in their Ukrainian homeland.

On Thursday, Canada announced new emergency immigration measures for Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s now week-old invasion, promising to eliminate “many of the normal visa requirements” and, pending background and security checks, could allow stays of up to two years.


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Officials say they hope to have these new measures in place by mid-March, around the same time details are set to be released for a new family reunification program.

“All Ukrainians who come to Canada as part of these measures will be eligible to apply for open work permits, making it easier for employers to quickly hire Ukrainian nationals,” Thursday’s press release read.

“As previously announced, IRCC will issue open work permits to Ukrainian visitors, workers and students who are currently in Canada and cannot safely go home.”

Palagniuk told the National Post he’s dismayed over Canada’s refusal to waive mandatory visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens, describing current processes as identical for those seeking tourist visas.


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It’s a sentiment shared by many, but one the Trudeau Liberals seem reluctant to entertain.

On Tuesday, Liberal members of the Commons immigration committee voted against a motion calling on Canada to drop visa requirements for fleeing Ukrainians.

That, Palagniuk said, would make a huge difference for those facing Canada’s bureaucratic nightmare on top of Russia’s real-life nightmare of missiles and airstrikes raining down on civilian targets.

“This is a real international emergency,” he said.

“This is the worst war that’s happened since World War Two, and it looks like the (Canadian) government doesn’t understand, or doesn’t want to understand.”

On Thursday, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said a visa waiver would present logistical issues.


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“(A waiver) was going to require particular regulatory changes and certain renovations to our IT system, both internal to our department and with airlines to actually recognize through the electronic travel authorization program we have for other countries that have visa-free travel,” Fraser said.

“It was going to take 12 to 14 weeks — we don’t have 12 to 14 weeks.”

Thursday’s new measures, Fraser said, can be put into place much quicker, insisting they’re a quicker pathway to safety than simply adding Ukraine to the list of 60 countries whose citizens can enter Canada visa-free.

That list of visa-exempt nations includes nearly all of Ukraine’s immediate neighbours, such as Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia.


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Palagniuk, whose parents live in Ukraine’s eastern reaches near the Romanian border, called the IRCC’s global crisis hotline Wednesday seeking options for his parents.

In a recording of the call provided to the National Post, the agent outlined to Palagniuk a process strikingly similar to those seeking visas to visit Canada as tourists.

Applicants must first leave Ukraine to submit biometrics data at Canadian collection centres — ideally visa offices in Warsaw or Bucharest — and provide supporting documents proving employment, bank statements establishing means of financial support, as well as convince immigration officers they don’t intend to overstay their visa.

Once approved, applicants must then mail their Ukrainian passports out-of-country for final processing.


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Palagniuk says his parents are caught in an even more complicated situation, as they’re both in the final stages of being granted permanent resident status — a lengthy, years-long process even in the best times.

For his parents, the process outlasted their now-expired Canadian permanent resident visas — required to board a plane to Canada and complete the final steps of becoming a landed immigrant with airport immigration officers.

“The only way to do that now is to send documents to Poland or Romania, at the Canadian embassy, so they can include the visa with your passport and send it back,” he said.

“Is it appropriate to ask someone in the middle of a war to send their only travel document out-of-country and wait another week or two before you would receive it back?”

Inquires to IRCC by the National Post went unacknowledged.

Measures previously announced by IRCC have been met with skepticism, including last month’s announcement that adding the keyword “Ukraine2022” to submitted paperwork would expedite processing.

The IRCC agent Palagniuk spoke to on Wednesday also made this suggestion.

“We all know how World War Two started, but now we’re in a situation where history is repeating itself and nobody cares,” he said.

“Sanctions work, and I’m thankful for that, but we need more.”

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