Asylum seekers working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic are being recognized for their efforts amid calls to acknowledge their sacrifices during the ongoing health crisis.
Federal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced Friday that some refugee claimants — many of whom are in Quebec — working in health care will be eligible for permanent residency after mobilizing to protect Canadians at the height of the novel coronavirus crisis.
“They put themselves at risk and we are grateful for their risk, for their sacrifice,” he said.
The one-time measure is exceptional to honour those who “paid a very high price” during the pandemic, according to Mendicino. He could not say how many asylum seekers will benefit from the program.
To apply for residency, claimants must have claimed asylum in Canada prior to March 13 and have spent no less than 120 hours working as an orderly, nurse or other designated occupation since then.
They must also demonstrate they have six months of experience in the profession before they can receive permanent residency and have until the end of this month to meet that requirement.
“These were the people who showed up hour after hour, day after day, month after month to work in hospital and long-term care homes where COVID-19 struck most grievously,” Mendicino said.
The new program comes after months-long negotiations between Ottawa and Quebec.
In May, Quebec Premier François Legault said he would promise to consider pushing for residency status amid growing calls for asylum seekers — who have been dubbed guardian angels — to be acknowledged for their work in the province’s embattled long-term care homes and hospitals hit hard by the health crisis.
At the time, Legault said the government would take a closer look at their cases “one by one” to see if they can qualify for immigration status.
“I’m happy to see the Quebec and federal governments work together for asylum seekers (who) took risks by working in the health-care system during the pandemic,” Legault said Friday. “To thank them, we’ll accept them as immigrants.”
Quebec Immigration Minister Nadine Girault also applauded the decision Friday, saying the province has been seeking a way to allow its “guardian angels” to permanently settle.
“We can now take concrete action to recognize the participation and contribution of those who have sought asylum in the collective effort to care for the sick and the elderly during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said in a statement.
In Montreal, Frantz André of the Action Committee of the People without Status welcomed the measure, saying it will come as a relief to newcomers who were waiting to know if they were eligible for permanent status.
“The ones that are qualified, they’re ecstatic,” he said.
Advocates for asylum seekers like André say more needs to be done. Many people “who went to battle” on the coronavirus front lines — such as security guards and cooks — will not qualify for the plan.
“Why should we disqualify them?” he said. “I think there was discrimination in the process.”
— With files from Global News’ Brittany Henriques and the Canadian PressView link »