‘This is a screwed up system’: frustrated Liberal MPs want to slash immigration processing times

Of note:

Backbench Liberal MPs say they’re frustrated over extended delays in the processing of immigration and citizenship applications and they want new Immigration Minister Sean Fraser to take urgent action to fix the system.

“The entire system is broken down,” said one frustrated Liberal MP who spoke to The Hill Times on not-for-attribution basis in order to offer their candid opinion. “This is a screwed up system.”

MPs interviewed for this story said that for about two years they’ve been hearing that COVID-19 is the main reason for longer application processing times at Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada. Now, they said, they are being told the delays have been caused by the government’s decision to expedite the applications of 40,000 vulnerable residents of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

The MPs said they think the government will come up with another reason for the delays once the Afghan refugees are settled, and their constituents will still have to suffer. They noted that their government has been in power for more than six years and they’ve had four immigration ministers since 2015, including John McCallum, Ahmed Hussen (York South-Weston, Ont.), Marco Mendicino (Marco-Mendicino, Ont.), and now Fraser (Central Nova, N.S.), but “the mess the Stephen Harper Conservatives left in 2015,” in terms of long wait times, is still not fully cleaned up.

Fraser was appointed to the immigration portfolio on Oct. 26. McCallum served as immigration minister from November 2015 to January 2017; Hussen from January 2017 to November 2019; and Mendicino from November 2019 to October 2021.

“They’ve been telling us COVID, COVID, COVID as the reason for the delay,” said a second MP. “Now they’re saying Afghanistan, Afghanistan, Afghanistan. Who knows, tomorrow there will be something else.”

Some MPs said the “funny thing” is that the department is currently processing student applications or other temporary resident-to-permanent resident applications within a couple of months, compared to other streams of immigration and citizenship that in some cases take years. They said that in the past, one often cited reason for long processing times was the background security checks that alone, in some cases, would take several months or years. It’s hard to understand, they said, how the department now is completing the whole processing process, including background checks, within a couple of months for some applications.

The time to process an application at IRCC depends on whether it’s a family sponsorship, a refugee application, temporary resident permit, economic immigration application or a citizenship application. Also, it depends on whether the sponsored person or the immigration applicant is within Canada or outside of Canada. For example, according to IRCC website, in the case of spousal application, the current  processing time is 12 months. For a parental or grandparent application,  the processing time is 20-24 months. In the case of investor visas, the processing time is 64 months. All applications are not processed within the estimated time offered by the IRCC website.

Based on statistics provided by IRCC, CBC reported recently that as of Oct. 27, the department had a backlog of 1.8 million applications. Of these, the report said, 548,195 were for permanent residency, 775,741 were temporary residence applications, and 468,000 were for citizenship.

Immigration and citizenship issues are top of mind for all MPs representing major urban centres. MPs say that, in some cases, around 90 per cent of the calls they get from their constituents are related to immigration issues. For this reason, almost all MPs in urban centres have one or more staffers in their constituency offices who deal exclusively with these files.

Constituency work plays a critical role in the re-election of every MP. Major urban centres like the GTA and Metro Vancouver play a key role in deciding the outcome of every election. On top of that, MPs say it gives them a morale boost when they are making a difference in their constituents’ lives.

“It [constituency work] is everything, I mean, when I go knock on doors, and hear people give a positive response to recognize my office, especially a certain staff that they got served [by], I get an extra boost in my confidence,” said Liberal MP Han Dong (Don Valley North, Ont.) in an interview with The Hill Times. “I’m there to serve a purpose and the purpose again is to serve [constituents]. So it’s very important.”

MPs said that in every weekly Liberal regional or national caucus meeting, MPs raise the issue of delays in immigration and citizenship applications with the immigration minister and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.).

Earlier this month, Liberal sources told The Hill Times that a GTA resident, frustrated with problems trying to sponsor his wife and children from a South Asian country, tried to commit suicide by pouring gasoline on himself in front of Liberal MP Judy Sgro’s (Humber River-Black Creek, Ont.) constituency office, but the police arrived on time and stopped the person from doing so.

In an interview Sgro confirmed that the incident had taken place. She said she believed that the person in question had mental health challenges, and the sponsorship of his family was just one of many other issues he was dealing with.

Still, Sgro said, seeing someone pouring a container of gasoline on himself and trying to light himself on fire was a traumatic experience for her staff. At the time of this incident, Sgro was in Ottawa.

“Gasoline was everywhere, the smell of gasoline for my staff was a lot because they were looking at someone who was about to light themselves on fire,” said Sgro. “So it was a very traumatic thing for my staff to go through. I had to close the office for a couple of days until we could clean up some of the fumes and for them to kind of recover from that shock.”

After the incident, Sgro said that House of Commons security visited her constituency office to assess if any measures could be undertaken to improve the security in her office.

Sgro said that she understands the frustration of people who have to wait longer for their family members’ applications to be processed, but she said that certain issues like COVID or the situation in Afghanistan are beyond anyone’s control. So, people will have to be patient.

Meanwhile, in an email to The Hill Times, Alexander Cohen, press secretary to Minister Fraser, said that the global COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected Immigration Canada’s ability to process applications in an efficient manner. He said that since the start of the pandemic, the department has made significant adjustments. Cohen said that the government is investing $800-million to create a new state of the art digital platform that will further improve the efficiency of the department. He added that the government is expecting to welcome 401,000 new permanent residents this year, “the most in Canadian history.”

“One of the very first things we did was implement priority processing for those who need it most, like vulnerable people, family members seeking to reunite and those in essential services.,” said Cohen. “We’ve also added new staff—including 62 new employees at the IRCC office in Sydney NS—to help reunite families faster. These will help us return to the one-year processing standard for spousal sponsorship. We’ve improved technology and digitized more of our operations, and increased the amount of processing happening virtually.”

As for the faster processing of student applications or other temporary residents, he said, it’s a “single time-limited program this year” under which Canada is granting immigration to 90,000 people, including essential healthcare workers and international students who are already in Canada and have the required skills and experience.

Liberal MP Julie Dzerowicz (Davenport, Ont.), chair of the informal Liberal Immigration caucus, conceded there were challenges in processing the applications, but added that things have improved since her party first came to power in 2015. She agreed that a lot of work needs to be done but said that since coming to power, the government has made a number of improvements and it will improve even more in the coming months.

“There’s a lot of valid reasons why people are very upset,” said Dzerowicz. “But I will say to you that we’ve made a lot of advances. It’s been unfortunate that we’ve all gone through this COVID. But hopefully in the coming months, days and months, we’ll start seeing some of that cleared up.”

Liberal MP Terry Duguid (Winnipeg South, Man.) agreed: “We have made Minister Fraser aware of some of the challenges we have been facing with immigration cases at the constituency level,” said Duguid in an email. “We know he has listened carefully and have every confidence he will address these issues. COVID is a big factor in the disruption to our systems.”

Dong also echoed the same view, saying that things slowed down at the Immigration Department because of the pandemic, but now it has started to pick up the pace.

“Since the election, things are moving along actually, things are happening,” said Dong. “I get regular reports from the constituency office that some files [that are] outstanding, they’re being resolved. The ministry is getting back to MPs’ offices faster. So I see signs that things are recovering. But the backlog is one of the issues that we share regularly. There are signs things are getting better.”

Rookie Liberal MP Michael Coteau (Don Valley East, Ont.), who in the past served as an Ontario immigration minister, said that like other countries, Canada has to respond to international emergencies, and that put pressure on the immigration system. He said Fraser is committed to fixing the system, and that in the coming months wait times will reduce significantly.

Coteau said that his office gets several calls every day from constituents who need help with immigration cases. He said the callers are always very respectful and understand why the wait times are longer. Since the Sept. 20 election, he said his office has started several hundred immigration files for his constituents, and is trying to help those people.

“It’s the No. 1 issue because that’s 90 per cent of the phone calls we get,” said Coteau.

Source: https://www.hilltimes.com/2021/12/13/this-is-a-screwed-up-system-frustrated-liberal-mps-want-to-slash-immigration-processing-times/333636?utm_source=Subscriber+-++Hill+Times+Publishing&utm_campaign=41b722c1d0-Todays-Headlines-Subscribers&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_8edecd9364-41b722c1d0-90755301&mc_cid=41b722c1d0&mc_eid=685e94e554

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: