Sitting in his wood-panelled office in rural Beamsville, Ont., Arjan van Dam trained his eyes on his shared computer screen, closely following the instructions of his immigration lawyer on a video conference call.
For a few minutes, the foreign worker from the Netherlands kept refreshing his screen, anxiously waiting for the application link to Canada’s one-time, special immigration program to go live.
At 12:03 p.m., three minutes after the website opened to applications Thursday, he was able to register and create an account.
But then … he didn’t see any incoming email with the code he needed to activate and log into his account.
“Oh, it went to the spam,” the 33-year-old man exhaled after his lawyer, Barbara Jo Caruso, suggested him to check his junk mail.
That was two full minutes wasted and van Dam knew every second counted in the race to submit his permanent residence application under the new pathway designed for recent international graduates and essential migrant workers already in Canada.
There’re only 90,000 spots available: 40,000 for international students who recently graduated; 20,000 for temporary foreign workers in health care jobs; and 30,000 for those in other selected essential occupations, such as his as a project manager for a company specializing in making and installing cultivation floors for greenhouses.
The portal will stop taking applications once the quota for each stream is reached.
Like other applicants, van Dam had been scrambling over the past two weeks to compile all the documentation his counsel believed he would need to scan and upload for the application. Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino had announced the plan in mid-April, but the application guide was only released late Wednesday afternoon.
All the forms and files he needed had already been stored in his laptop at his finger tips. He finished uploading his forms and documents, followed by the ones for his wife, Comelia, 32, and their three kids, Dirika, 8, Henrik, 6, and Evy Anna, 2, who was born in Canada.
“With a large family, you have extra work to do. And you see here how somebody who is single would have a distinct advantage (in the race),” quipped Caruso, as van Dam finally uploaded the receipt of his application fee.
“We’re going down to the wire. Please go as quickly as you can.”
Finally, at 12:36 p.m., after a final review of the application, van Dam pressed the “submit” button. At that point, 4,600 people had already secured a spot, including 430 in his stream.
“You successfully submitted your application,” he proclaimed, reading the note from his screen and raising his fist.
Both Caruso and her client were pleasantly surprised at how smoothly the process went.
For van Dam and other applicants, who otherwise might not have qualified for permanent residence under other skilled workers’ immigration programs, the new pathway is a big deal and a rare opportunity to settle permanently because of its relaxed criteria.
Due to border closures as a result of the pandemic, Ottawa has prioritized potential immigration candidates already in Canada in order to meet this country’s annual immigration target of 410,000, set for 2021 as part of the country’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery.
Van Dam, whose high school education and mediocre English language test result had prevented him from qualifying in the past, said he was thrilled when he learned of the new program.
“This is a great opportunity,” said van Dam, who arrived here with his family in 2017 on a work permit to run his Dutch employer’s Canadian operations. “Having permanent residence is the only way to build a life in Canada.”
Parteek Kaur Smagh, who came here from India in 2018 on a student visa, agreed.
The 26-year-old, already with an undergrad engineering degree from India, paid a total of $50,000 in Canadian tuition, first for the construction-project management program at Fanshawe College and then a master’s degree in engineering at Western University.
Although she finished her studies in December 2019, she didn’t receive her postgraduate work permit until last August because of COVID-related processing delays with the immigration department.
“I’ve sent out more than a hundred resumes but we’re in a lockdown. Companies wanted to see my work permit,” said Smagh, who has been unable to find a meaningful job in her field but works as a security guard.
Because the international graduate stream under the new pathway only requires applicants to be currently employed, regardless of the type of occupation, she still qualified.
“This is a golden opportunity for everyone,” said Smagh, who took a day off from work so she could file her application. “We are not sure if we will be given another opportunity like this.”
Jagdeep Kailey, settlement service manager at Peel Multicultural Council, said the new pathway is great news for migrant students and workers who are caught up in the pandemic but have contributed on the front-line as essential workers.
Many qualified applicants had to take time off work at Tim Hortons, warehouses, factories and gas stations to find the time to apply for the immigration program at noon EDT Thursday, he said.
“This program has given people hope. Many of them otherwise would not see any light at the end of the tunnel. So this is a wonderful initiative,” said Kailey, who knows of at least a dozen people applying for the program.
“But the program came out suddenly. People only had a couple of weeks to prepare and they were scrambling.”
Thursday’s application process didn’t run without problems. About an hour after the government portal started taking applications, the immigration department tweeted that its online payment system was experiencing technical issues and warning of delays.
“The new application portal was great but the rollout of the program still sucks,” said immigration consultant Earl Blaney, who helped compile 30 clients’ applications over the past two weeks and wasn’t happy with the little prep time applicants were given.
As of 6 p.m. on Thursday, immigration officials had received 22,436 applications under the international graduate stream; 2,776 in non-health-care essential work and 335 in health care jobs.