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

The Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program, which expedites visas and temporary residence permits for Ukrainians and their families, expires on March 31.

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

“We’ve seen an increase in the number (of Ukrainians) arriving, especially in Toronto, because Ukrainians are getting 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 government to extend the program.

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“We haven’t had anyone in government tell us it’s ending, but we haven’t had anyone in government tell us it’s 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 appeals to host families'

Volunteer group helping Ukrainian refugees appeals to host families

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

The letter, a copy of which was shared with Global News, also pointed out that Eastern European nations like Poland have accepted far more people fleeing the war because of their proximity to Ukraine, and that Western nations like Canada have an obligation to help ease the burden these 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 to help war refugees,” the letter said.

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

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

“Minister Fraser remains engaged with stakeholders, MPs 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 previously told Global News that some of the approved applicants who have not come to Canada have chosen to stay closer to home instead and may have forgotten to withdraw their applications.

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Michalchyshyn does not dispute the explanation, but notes that since Canada has not provided charter flights from Ukraine since the first months of the war, applicants are forced to finance their own trips to Canada.

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He also pointed to delays in biometric screening that can slow entry times, a problem which has plagued other emergency refugee programs such as the one designed to evacuate people from Afghanistan after the Taliban took power.

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

“As long as the war continues, we know the need continues,” he said. “It is clear that the number of people in need will not change on March 31 or April 1.”

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