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Canada’s Ukraine visa program is set to expire this month. Will Ottawa extend it?

Click to play video: 'News on Ukraine emergency visa program to come before March 31 expiration: immigration minister'
News on Ukraine emergency visa program to come before March 31 expiration: immigration minister
WATCH: Responding to a question about the emergency visa program for Ukrainians that is set to expire at the end of the month, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser said that he expects to share more news about the programme in advance of the March 31 deadline – Mar 14, 2023

Canada’s immigration minister will “soon” have an update on the future of an emergency visa program for Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s war as calls grow for the government to announce an extension.

The Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel program (CUAET), which expedites visas and temporary residency permits for Ukrainians and their families, is set to expire March 31.

The lack of a firm commitment that the program will continue beyond that date is creating uncertainty and even panic among Ukrainians who are still looking to come to Canada, advocates say.

“We’ve seen an increase in numbers (of Ukrainians) arriving, particularly in Toronto, as Ukrainians get very nervous about the possibility of this program ending,” said Ihor Michalchyshyn, executive director and CEO of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, which has been lobbying the government to extend the program.

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“We haven’t had anybody in the government tell us that it is ending, but we haven’t had anybody in the government tell us that it is being extended.”

Since January 2022, 177,958 Ukrainians have arrived in Canada, including CUAET applicants and returning Canadian permanent residents. At least 590,000 applications through the CUAET program have been approved out of 900,000 that have been received.

Click to play video: 'Volunteer group helping Ukrainian refugees makes plea for host families'
Volunteer group helping Ukrainian refugees makes plea for host families

On Wednesday, Conservative MPs including shadow immigration minister Tom Kmiec wrote to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser calling for an extension to be announced “without delay,” reminding him that the war is far from over.

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The letter, a copy of which was shared with Global News, also pointed out Eastern European nations such as Poland have accepted far more people fleeing the war due to their proximity to Ukraine, and that Western nations like Canada have a duty to help ease the strain on those countries.

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“We cannot simply abandon Ukrainian civilians fleeing the war and we can and must continue to support our allies in the region who have taken on a greater burden due to their geographical proximity in helping war refugees,” the letter says.

“We urge you not to leave Ukrainians in the dark regarding your plans with this program.”

In response to the letter, a spokesperson for Fraser’s office on Thursday hinted at an imminent announcement regarding the CUAET program, but did not provide specifics.

“Minister Fraser remains engaged with stakeholders, Members of Parliament and community members, and looks forward to providing an update on this soon,” Bahoz Dara Aziz said in an email.

In their letter, the Conservative MPs highlight the large discrepancy between the number of CUAET applications received and how many Ukrainians have actually arrived in Canada.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has previously told Global News some of the approved applicants who have not arrived in Canada have chosen to stay closer to home instead, and may have forgotten to withdraw their applications.

Click to play video: 'How Canada has supported, rallied for Ukraine 1 year into war'
How Canada has supported, rallied for Ukraine 1 year into war

Michalchyshyn doesn’t dispute the explanation, but notes that because Canada has not provided charter flights from Ukraine since the early months of the war, applicants are forced to fund their own trips to Canada.

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He also pointed to delays in biometric screening that can slow down entry times, an issue that has plagued other emergency refugee programs like the one designed to evacuate people out of Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover.

Until an extension is announced, Michalchyshyn said the UCC and other advocates will continue to apply pressure on the Canadian government to act.

“As long as the war continues, we know the need continues,” he said. “It’s clear that the number of people in need isn’t going to change on March 31 or April 1.”

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