Immigration to Canada from Ukraine and Options for Workers in Russia and Belarus

Immigration to Canada from Ukraine and Options for Workers in Russia and Belarus

March 18, 2022

It’s clear that Canada is doing its best to welcome as many Ukrainians as possible. Canada has made several concessions and created new pathways for Ukrainians who decide to stay in Canada or move to Canada. These are very commendable steps by Canada and the Canadians as a whole to help a nation that is under attack by an aggressor.

However, there are other unseen victims of this war that remain in the shadows on the aggressor’s side. How can they immigrate to Canada these days? We as Canadians should demonstrate compassion and understanding towards them, too.

Russian Sanctions, Immigration from Russia, and Hiring Foreign Workers

Following the aggression by Russia and Belarus towards Ukraine, many Western countries, including Canada, have imposed unprecedented sanctions against these two countries by practically cutting them off from the world’s economic and trade systems. Thousands of young and liberal citizens of these countries had to leave for other places such as Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, and many other countries.

One specific group of professionals who left Russia and Belarus for other countries are technology workers (tech workers) who have been employed by many western IT companies. Most if not all of those tech workers are young, liberal, and anti-war, and oppose Putin’s policies. At the moment, on a very basic human level, they cannot earn a living when working for foreign IT companies because many Russian and Belarussian banks have been excluded from the SWIFT and/or sanctioned.

To overcome this challenge, these tech workers are moving to other countries where they can open bank accounts and receive their earnings for their work. Similarly, many doctors, teachers, engineers, lawyers, scientists have fled Russia in big numbers in recent weeks.

So, how these citizens who were indirectly hit by Putin’s war in Ukraine can relocate to Canada? Is it realistic for them to obtain any kind of Canadian visa? If they have Canadian visas already, can they immigrate to Canada? What’s next for these citizens in terms of immigration?

This article will try to find answers to perhaps not-so-popular questions using real-life scenarios explained to our team by several individuals and companies in Canada.

Key Scenarios for Immigration from Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine

There are many questions now: can Russians leave Russia? Can Belarussians leave Belarus? The answer is yes, but not without intricacies. Workers of local companies based in Russia or Belarus, or workers of international companies with offices in Russia or Belarus have various options to leave their countries.

Workers immigrating from Russia and Belarus

Scenario 1: How can tech workers immigrate from Russia and Belarus to Canada? Can a Canadian IT company move its employees or hire existing contractors in Russia or Belarus and bring them to Canada?

At the moment, only certain high-profile citizens of Russia and Belarus have been sanctioned and their travel to Canada is not possible. All other citizens of Russia and Belarus can, in theory, apply for visas and travel to Canada. The only problem that could arise is when Russian and Belarussian citizens apply for temporary visas such as visitor visas and student visas. Canadian visa officers should be satisfied that they will return to their home countries after their stay in Canada. In the present situation, it may be hard to persuade a Canadian visa officer on this matter.

Scenario 2: What if a Russian or Belarussian tech worker applies for a work permit with a job offer from a Canadian IT company?

Recognizing that there are many unfilled tech jobs across Canada, one could argue that these Russian and Belarussian IT workers could be an asset and they should be allowed to travel and work in Canada.

There are several temporary work permit immigration programs that Canadian IT companies could use such as, the Global Talent Stream, Intra-Company Transfers, C10 Significant Benefit and GATS work permits and standard LMIA-based work permits. Each candidate’s background should be analyzed to see if he/she is eligible for one of these work permits.

The new measures introduced by Canada for the Ukrainian nationals are not applicable to Russian and Belorussian IT workers unless those workers are immediate family members of a Ukrainian national. Mixed citizenship families are common in all three countries.

Besides temporary immigration programs, there are several tech-specific permanent residence programs designed to attract foreign IT talent. Canadian employers may support permanent residence applications of their Russian and Belarussian workers through such programs as:

  • Global Talent Stream can also be used for the permanent residence application. A job offer given by a Canadian company to a foreign worker through the GTS program can support the worker’s permanent residence application by adding extra points in the Express Entry program;
  • Alberta Tech Immigration Pathway – a new program for Alberta-based tech companies to hire foreign workers and support their permanent settlement in Alberta.
  • Ontario Provincial Nominee Program’s Human Capital Priorities stream can be used for those IT workers who will be working for Ontario-based companies and who satisfy the requirements of the Express Entry program.
  • British Columbia PNP Tech program – BC PNP Tech has supported more than 6,000 tech workers to be nominated for permanent residence so far.
  • Quebec immigration pilot program for workers in the artificial intelligence, information technologies and visual effects sectors –
  • Saskatchewan PNP Tech Talent Pathway – it’s a new program that aims to attract tech talent to the province by offering a pathway to permanent residence through the provincial nominee program or the Express Entry program. You can watch a detailed video about this new program here.

People leaving Russia and people leaving Ukraine to immigrate to Canada

Scenario 3: If one of the spouses is a Ukrainian citizen and the other is either Russian, Belarussian or any other nationality who has been living in Ukraine permanently, can such family benefit from the new immigration measures of the Canadian government?

The new measures do not give a definitive answer to this specific situation of mixed citizenship families that are very common in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus.

We need to identify which one of the spouses is a Ukrainian national. Currently, all Ukrainian males between the ages of 18 and 60 (absent of any serious concern) have to stay in Ukraine and fight. Therefore, if a wife in the family is a Russian citizen and she has fled Ukraine for a neighbouring country, it is not clear if she can apply for a special Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET), because that new measure focuses on the Ukrainian nationals. We hope that the Canadian government will clarify this matter soon.

On the other hand, the News Release of March 3, 2022, states that “[Canada] will create a Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel, available for individuals fleeing Ukraine.” Hence, a woman with Russian citizenship (or any other citizenship for that matter) married to a Ukrainian man who stayed in Ukraine to fight should be allowed to apply and obtain the special Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET), and travel to Canada.

We believe that Canada is trying to (and should) help all people who are fleeing Ukraine because of war and who have lived in Ukraine on a permanent basis in spite of their citizenship status. Besides, there are documented refugees who were living in Ukraine and have not yet obtained Ukrainian citizenship. A person in a similar situation should be able to apply for a visa or travel document to Canada and argue his/her case before the Canadian authorities.

Scenario 4: If a Russian or Belarussian foreign worker is stuck in Canada with an expiring work permit and cannot travel to his home country due to flight cancellations, closure of airspace and other reasons beyond his control, can he stay in Canada legally by extending his status? What if that worker does not want to return to his home country due to the current situation there?

This is another real-life situation that we came across in recent weeks. The situation requires more analysis, but one thing is certain. The worker needs to take the necessary steps to extend his status in Canada to comply with immigration laws. We suggest that such individuals consult with an experienced immigration lawyer as soon as possible.

If a person is on a work permit, which will soon expire and no Canadian company has made a job offer to help him get a new permit, he can apply for a visitor record to extend his stay for another 6 months. He cannot legally work while waiting for his visitor record, so this may not be an ideal solution for him.

Considering the current situation and the fact that the worker is directly affected by something beyond his control, he can apply for an open work permit and make a case that he needs to work legally to support himself (and his family, if any) in Canada. This argument will rely on the reasonableness of Canadian immigration authorities when considering such an application.

As seen from the scenarios above, there are many grey areas in the current state of affairs caused by the Russia-Ukraine War. We hope that as the CUAET applications are processed by the Canadian immigration authorities, we will have more clarity on ambiguous situations.

If you are a Canadian company and have questions related to your Ukrainian, Russian or Belarussian workers or contractors, then contact us to discuss their situation by booking a 1-hour Strategy Meeting. We will provide detailed guidance and help you choose the best immigration pathway.