Manitoba 1st province to cover costs of medical tests for Ukrainians fleeing war

The Manitoba government has quietly agreed to cover the costs of medical exams for Ukrainian newcomers which are needed for them to update their work permits and get jobs in health care, child care and agriculture.

“In the absence of a federal funding commitment, the province is covering the cost. We are also working through a solution to cover those who have already paid,” a provincial spokesperson told CBC News in an email after several weeks of queries. 

“Those services are provided through their provincial health coverage and the [Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada]-approved physicians.”

Normally, people applying for open work permits, or living in countries with a higher incidence of serious communicable diseases, like tuberculosis, for six months in the year before their arrival, need to submit the results of a medical diagnostic test overseas before they can come to Canada.

Under Ottawa’s expedited visa process, the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET), Canada’s immigration department is waiving that requirement.

Instead, Ukranians have 90 days after their arrival to get the medical exam.

After it is complete, the doctor or health professional submits the results to Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). The person can then apply to change the conditions on their work permit.

However, it can cost up to $350 per adult, and slightly less per child, adding up to a big bill for larger families.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress has been calling on the provincial and federal governments to cover the cost, said Nick Krawetz, a UCC volunteer in Manitoba.

“These costs are a significant financial burden for those fleeing war, and thus this measure will help tremendously,” he said.

“It also further demonstrates Manitoba is leading the country in welcoming and supporting Ukrainians.”

The next step, Krawetz said, is having the medical exam costs reimbursed for those who have already paid for it.

Nick Krawetz, of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in Winnipeg, says the next step is for Manitoba to cover retroactively all the medical test expenses of newcomer Ukrainians to the province. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Manitoba’s decision is also being applauded by a community group in western Manitoba, which has raised more than $150,000 and found jobs for families wanting to move to the region.

“The announcement will save our fund between $15,000 to $20,000,” said Rodney Juba, a member of the Parkland Ukrainian Family Fund and support team in Dauphin, Man., a city about 250 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

So far, five families have arrived and three more are expected this coming week.

In Manitoba, there are only 20 approved physicians accredited by IRCC and the majority are in Winnipeg.

With more than 300 newcomers to Manitoba who arrived on a federally chartered flight on May 23, advocates say that will mean delays for appointments and long travel times for people living outside larger centres.

“If we can help our medical doctors get the certification required so we do not have to travel to Winnipeg or Brandon, this will save even more money and time,” Juba said.

“This service will not only benefit Ukrainian families but all newcomers to our area.”

Manitoba only province to cover fees so far

So far, no other provinces have agreed to cover the cost of the tests, including Quebec and Nova Scotia, which are welcoming hundreds of Ukrainians this week.

A second federally chartered flight landed in Montreal Sunday and a third is scheduled to arrive in Halifax on June 2.

A spokesperson from Santé Québec referred all queries about the cost of the program to IRCC. 

A Nova Scotia Health spokesperson wrote the province “has not yet had a significant number of people arriving from Ukraine” and they are working to plan for increased arrivals.

Currently, the IRCC website is showing a 143-day processing time to update work permits, however a spokesperson for the federal minister says if newcomers include the key words “Ukraine 2022” on their applications, they will be prioritized.

“The processing of work permits for Ukrainian nationals is currently 14 days, for standard non-complex cases,” said Aidan Strickland, press secretary for IRCC Minister Sean Fraser.