OTTAWA -- Those looking to immigrate to Canada should be prepared to face extensive delays, says a Toronto-based immigration lawyer, citing pandemic-related hurdles causing a backlog of applications.

Chantal Desloges told CTV’s Your Morning on Monday that it’s been difficult to advise clients about the processing timeline due to the unpredictability of COVID-19.

"Before COVID-19, it would take you about a year if you applied for citizenship, now with these delays, I would say if you budgeted between a year and two years it would probably be more accurate," she said. "Especially for people like refugees, many of whom are separated from their families while they’re waiting for a hearing, this kind of a backlog is absolutely devastating for them."

The government’s immigration and citizenship website says it is still accepting most permanent resident applications but its ability to "review and process them" is being impacted by COVID-19. While the government says it can’t estimate processing times, it’s prioritizing Canadians returning to the country, vulnerable groups, and people who perform or support essential services.

In a statement to, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said that while delays are inevitable, the ministry is working to modernize the system to minimize disruption.

"The department began holding virtual citizenship ceremonies on April 1, beginning with individuals and families whose citizenship ceremony had been cancelled, and who needed citizenship for urgent reasons, like employment," said Kevin Lemkay.

Desloges said this resourceful thinking is a welcome change for her clients.

"You see immigration, a very large bureaucracy, which historically has been a little bit resistant to change, starting to do things very innovatively like holding citizenship ceremonies on Zoom for example, which a year ago, if you had asked me would they ever do, I would have said ‘absolutely not.'"

The Refugee Protection Division – the tribunal branch of the Board – posted on its website that it resumed in-person hearings during the week of Aug. 3. The Immigration Division will resume its in-person processes on Sept. 14, and continue with video conferencing until then.

Desloges also predicts the move is here to stay.

"[It] is an excellent step. I could never understand why it was necessary to meet certain people in person when you know it’s a great inconvenience for a lot of people to attend an immigration interview in-person. So I think you’ll see that continue," she said.

On Friday, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced a temporary measure to provide permanent residency to asylum claimants working in Canada’s health-care sector during the pandemic.

To apply for residency now, they must have claimed asylum in Canada prior to March 13 and have spent no less than 120 hours working as an orderly, nurse or another designated occupation between the date of their claim and Aug. 14.

Applicants must also demonstrate they have six months of experience in the profession before they can receive permanent residency and have until the end of Aug. 2021 to meet that requirement.

"The government recognizes the extraordinary contribution of asylum claimants working in Canada’s health-care sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in long-term care centres. As these individuals face an uncertain future in Canada, the current circumstances merit exceptional measures in recognition of their service during the pandemic," read the ministry’s press release.

Speaking about all applicants, Lemkay said "no application will be closed or refused" for failing to meet documentation requirements or an inability to complete the application process under the usual timeline.

With a file from The Canadian Press.