The future for tens of thousands of international students is in jeopardy. Here’s why

More on international study permit delays, yet another unfortunate example of government and IRCC failure in service delivery:

Leila Ghodrat Jahromi should have been sitting in class at Simon Fraser University this week, studying for her master of education degree.

Instead, the Iranian student is sitting in her temporary home in Turkey as she waits for a Canadian study permit some 14 weeks after applying for one.

“I have gone through a difficult path in my life,” said Ghodrat Jahromi, who sold off a marriage gift of land from her parents and her car to cover her tuition in Canada. “Studying abroad is a milestone in my occupation towards prosperity. This situation is shattering all my planning for the future.”

The 30-year-old is among tens of thousands of international students whose fall semester has been put in jeopardy thanks to a processing backlog of permits at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). As of Sept. 1, just days before classes began, 151,000 applications were still working their way through the system, according to IRCC’s latest figures, provided to the Star on Tuesday.

Universities and colleges, which have mostly returned to in-person learning, have been scrambling to offer alternatives.

But where online options don’t exist, schools are warning international students they need to be in seats this week — or else it will be too late to catch up.

Deferrals are being recommended at this point, and in most cases, tuition and residence fees are being refunded. But such deferrals come at a huge cost for both students and institutions.

“Canada is now getting a reputation on the global stage that perhaps it’s better to go to the U.S. or it’s better to go to the U.K.,” said Deborah MacLatchy, president and vice-chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University, where at least 71 of its approximately 1,336 international students have been impacted by delays.

Canada has become the third-largest destination for international students after the U.S. and Australia. Post-secondary institutions across Canada, including Laurier, have been actively working to attract international students, who, as of 2020, made up 18 per cent of the student body nationwide.

Last year, a record 560,000 study permit applications — which are considered a step towards permanent residency — were processed by IRCC. In the first eight months of this year, the government finalized 452,000 study permits, but has struggled to keep up with demand.

A spokesperson at the University of Toronto, which has more than 20,000 international students, said that, as of last week, more than 600 permits for U of T students were still outstanding, and that the university “sympathizes with the frustration of those experiencing long delays in processing.”

Despite IRCC’s promise to hire 1,250 new employees to tackle the problem, the current wait time for a study permit from outside Canada is 12 weeks. Industry agents and consultants say processing in Canada is taking longer than in rival destinations, although IRCC told the Star that 62 per cent of the 150,000 applications in the system are within the service standard of 60 days.

IRCC told the Star it is “moving towards a more integrated, modernized and centralized working environment in order to help speed up application processing globally,” including the hiring blitz and digitizing applications.

“Honestly, I am starting to regret not having an alternative,” said Ghodrat Jahromi, who was accepted to the B.C. university in February and applied for her study permit in early June, together with her husband, who sought an open work permit so he could accompany her. They were asked for additional documentation in early July, which they provided immediately. “With such an academic background, I could simply have been admitted to top universities around the world with much less painful processing time.”

Having co-founded an online English academy, Ghodrat Jahromi is hoping to enhance her credentials by getting a M.Ed. in teaching English as an additional language. She said Simon Fraser, which has about 6,860 international students, has been helpful, but ultimately her program had to be completed in person, and time just ran out.

She has, regretfully, decided to defer to spring 2023.

Because she had already resigned from her job and broken her lease in Antalya, Turkey — where she had moved to escape Tehran’s pollution that was exacerbating her asthma, and to better access COVID-19 vaccines — she is now faced with a huge rent increase and finding work to tide her over to the next semester, assuming her permit comes through.

“Right now, I am applying to other countries, just in case,” she said, adding that through an online forum, she has been tracking similar frustrations from many other Iranian students facing delays.

University of Waterloo economics professor Mikal Skuterud has for weeks been receiving emails from students worried about what they’re missing. Of the 600 students in his Economics 101 course, about a fifth are international students.

For those still waiting on a permit, the window is nearly closed, said Skuterud: “Once you are missing two of 12 weeks, a sixth of the course, to me that’s a problem.”

Waterloo’s faculty of arts is recommending students not in class by Sept. 20 defer admission. Laurier, meanwhile, has suggested Wednesday as the last date to start in-person classes, given group work and assessment expectations.

“This is really quite unnecessary stress that we’re putting these students under. Why? Because the IRCC is a bit of a mess right now,” said Skuterud.

“This is a big, big move for many of them,” leaving behind families and homelands. And, he added, “students are paying a lot of money.”

Tuition for international students is, on average, three times higher than for domestic students, making it a vital revenue source in schools across the country. Undergraduate tuition for engineering at Waterloo, for example, is $66,000 per year compared to $18,000 for Canadian citizens.

At Laurier, permit delays this year alone could have a financial impact of $2 million, climbing to $10 million over the course of four years if those students choose to go elsewhere, according to MacLatchy.

“My worry is that if they’re not going to be able to come this year, by next year, will they have made other decisions about other opportunities?”

Although delays are not isolated to this year, MacLatchy said they are having a cumulative effect, and Laurier and other institutions like Waterloo have been advocating for solutions.

Having university-educated international students, said MacLatchy, is one of the “smartest ways for the country to get great talent” that will bring entrepreneurship and global experience to the workforce.

“We want (international students) to think of Canada as their destination for their education and also for their future careers and lives. To have visa delays be what stops them is really unfortunate.”

Source: The future for tens of thousands of international students is in jeopardy. Here’s why

La crise des passeports aboutira-t-elle à une action collective?

Unlikely that there will be a class action given the unlikelihood of success according to the experts cited:

Billets d’avion inutilisables, frais d’annulation d’hôtels, vacances gâchées : les voyageurs frustrés de ne pas avoir reçu leur passeport à temps pourraient-ils intenter une action collective contre le gouvernement fédéral pour se faire indemniser ? Des juristes consultés par Le Devoir estiment qu’un tel recours est possible, mais non sans embûches.

Il est évidemment possible de poursuivre en justice le fédéral, ce qui a déjà été fait à de multiples reprises, établit d’emblée le professeur de droit public de l’Université de Sherbrooke Guillaume Rousseau.

Il rappelle toutefois que, pour utiliser cette procédure spéciale qu’est l’action collective, il faut franchir une étape supplémentaire par rapport aux autres manières d’intenter une poursuite : celle de l’autorisation. Un juge se penche alors sur le dossier et vérifie s’il satisfait aux critères permettant aux personnes s’estimant lésées de procéder « en groupe ». Si oui, le magistrat donne le feu vert à la poursuite, qui peut aller de l’avant.

Le juge ainsi appelé à autoriser une action collective doit par exemple se demander si elle convient à la situation. On peut penser ici qu’elle serait préférable à des centaines ou à des milliers de poursuites individuelles, souligne le professeur Rousseau.

Mais pour avoir gain de cause, il faudra que les voyageurs qui ont subi des dommages (certains d’entre eux ont annulé leur voyage à grands frais ou ont manqué des jours de travail pour faire la file, même la nuit, afin d’obtenir le précieux document de voyage) prouvent que le fédéral a commis une faute.

En droit public, il y a faute quand une personne adopte un comportement qui s’écarte de celui de la personne raisonnable. « Ici, le gouvernement a-t-il agi comme un bon administrateur ? » demande le professeur Rousseau. En d’autres mots, est-il fautif de ne pas avoir eu assez d’employés pour traiter les nombreuses demandes de passeport déposées quand les restrictions sanitaires ont commencé à être levées ? Devait-il allouer plus de ressources au bureau des passeports ? Ou encore embaucher plus d’employés — et plus tôt — en prévision de la reprise des voyages internationaux ?

L’« argument pandémique »

Une telle action collective « n’est pas gagnée d’avance, mais ce n’est pas non plus impossible », juge Me Anne-Julie Asselin, avocate au sein du cabinet Trudel, Johnston et Lespérance, qui pilote de nombreuses actions collectives au Québec.

Selon elle, « la difficulté majeure du dossier » est de prouver la faute de l’État fédéral. Me Alexandre Brosseau-Wery, avocat associé chez Kugler Kandestin, est un peu plus optimiste : « Cela pourrait, à première vue, être un bon recours. »

Mais tous deux soulèvent la même embûche : pour justifier ses ratés et ses retards, l’État pourrait soulever comme moyen de défense la pandémie, qui a envoyé en congé de maladie bon nombre de ses employés et qui l’a forcé à affecter certains d’entre eux à d’autres tâches. Sans oublier la pénurie de personnel qui sévit un peu partout.

Cet « argument pandémique » a déjà été soulevé par plusieurs défendeurs devant les tribunaux ces derniers temps, rappelle Me Asselin. Mais deux ans plus tard, l’argument est-il toujours valable ? Les tribunaux pourraient y être moins réceptifs avec le passage du temps. Et puis, il y a quand même des choses qui auraient pu être prévues par le gouvernement, dit l’avocate.

Me Brosseau-Wery est du même avis : « On peut concevoir que, s’il avait agi diligemment et de manière proactive, il aurait pu mettre en place le nécessaire pour répondre à la demande plus élevée », et respecter ses propres normes et délais de traitement des passeports. De plus, c’est le gouvernement fédéral lui-même qui a levé certaines des restrictions de voyage, ce qui a mené à une forte demande pour ce document officiel.

Un autre argument fort pourrait être utilisé contre le fédéral, avance le professeur Rousseau : l’article 6 de la Charte canadienne des droits et libertés, qui prévoit que « tout citoyen canadien a le droit de demeurer au Canada, d’y entrer ou d’en sortir ». 

Empêcher un citoyen de voyager à l’extérieur des frontières pourrait « être constitutif de faute. » Et quand il est question de droits protégés par la Charte, les tribunaux ne sont pas très réceptifs à des excuses du type « problèmes administratifs », ajoute-t-il.

Témérité et immunité

Par contre, Me Asselin signale que des avertissements sur le site Web du gouvernement enjoignaient aux voyageurs de ne pas acheter de billets d’avion sans avoir leur passeport en main. Cela n’exonérerait peut-être pas entièrement le fédéral, mais pourrait possiblement mener à un partage de responsabilité, estime-t-elle : Ottawa pourrait plaider que l’achat de billets était téméraire. La ministre fédérale du Développement social, Karina Gould, a elle-même soulevé cet argument.

À cela, certains pourraient répliquer qu’à une certaine période, le bureau des passeports ne traitait que les demandes des voyageurs qui avaient un vol partant dans les 48 heures.

Il y a aussi une difficulté supplémentaire quand on poursuit le gouvernement : toute la question de l’immunité dont bénéficie l’État dans certaines circonstances, rappelle Me Brosseau-Wery. Le tribunal doit déterminer si la situation dommageable résulte d’une décision politique (par exemple, dans le cas d’une piste cyclable, décider ou non de la construire) ou opérationnelle (l’entretien de ladite piste afin qu’elle soit sécuritaire), illustre-t-il.

Car l’État bénéficie d’une immunité relative quant à ses décisions de nature politique, sauf en cas de mauvaise foi.

La limite entre une décision de nature politique ou opérationnelle est toutefois souvent difficile à établir, juge l’avocat. Mais cette immunité, si elle est applicable, peut jouer en faveur du gouvernement et faire échec à la poursuite, renchérit Me Asselin.

Source: La crise des passeports aboutira-t-elle à une action collective?

Délais d’attente à Service Canada ou quand l’exception fait la règle

A reminder that Service Canada’s problems go beyond passport services and are long standing:

Relayée largement par les grands médias, « la crise des passeports » soulève depuis quelques semaines l’indignation de nombreux Canadiens qui s’étonnent de l’échec monumental de Service Canada à délivrer des passeports dans des délais raisonnables.

Les personnes sans-emploi qui ont dû composer avec la machine défectueuse qu’est Service Canada sourcillent probablement devant les propos de la ministre lorsqu’elle invoque le caractère exceptionnel de la situation. Certains se rappelleront également qu’en 2006, un syndicat d’employés de la fonction publique canadienne avait pointé du doigt l’existence de directives internes ayant pour effet de falsifier les chiffres sur les délais d’attente réels à Service Canada.

Le manque de transparence et le cafouillage chez Service Canada ne datent pas d’hier. Depuis l’instauration de cette méga-agence fédérale, les groupes de défense des droits des chômeurs de la province n’ont cessé de dénoncer l’accroissement des délais d’attente pour le traite006, pour résorber l’arriéré des 80 000 dossiers dont le traitement dépassait les 28 jours, le Mouvement autonome et solidaire des sans-emploi (MASSE) recommandait d’augmenter le nombre d’agents d’au moins 20 % et de cesser la chasse aux « mauvais chômeurs ».

Le même son de cloche fut donné en 2008, 2010, 2013 et pour toutes les années subséquentes. Enfin, le rapport Massé sur la qualité des services, publié en 2015, suggérait un ensemble de solutions qui auraient pu être mises en place bien avant la pandémie. Il faut augmenter le nombre d’agents et bonifier leur formation, simplifier les procédures opérationnelles et investir dans les infrastructures technologiques.

Après dix-sept ans, force est de constater que Service Canada est non seulement devenu une machine qui fragilise les populations vulnérables, mais un véritable frein à l’exercice du droit à une protection en cas de chômage pour tous les travailleurs.

Depuis l’hiver 2022 — alors que les demandes de chômage atteignent un creux historique — Service Canada bat de tristes records. En janvier, ce sont près de 300 000 dossiers qui ne respectent pas les normes de traitement, certaines personnes pouvant attendre jusqu’à un an pour que soit traitée leur demande. Gardés dans l’ombre, les futurs prestataires doivent appeler en moyenne sept fois les services de première ligne pour obtenir un suivi de leur dossier.

Comble de l’aberration, les demandes classées « urgences humanitaires » ne sont plus considérées comme prioritaires depuis quelque temps. Des chômeurs en détresse se font dire de prendre leur mal en patience, de s’endetter et parfois même d’aller chercher de l’aide sociale. Les conséquences sont dramatiques. Connaissez-vous beaucoup de personnes capables de faire vivre leur famille sans revenus pendant deux, voire quatre mois ?

Au-delà de la pandémie

Loin d’être perméable aux vagues de réformes de l’administration publique observées depuis 1970, le Canada crée en 2005 Service Canada, un organe à guichet unique au sein duquel seront désormais administrés les programmes de quatorze ministères. Cette nouvelle structure, nous promet-on, « permettra à la fois d’améliorer la qualité des services tout en réalisant des économies ».

Service Canada importe des méthodes de gestion propres à celles des entreprises privées et témoigne d’une vision clientéliste des services publics. L’importance accrue accordée aux mécanismes d’évaluation du rendement du personnel alourdit les procédures administratives, alors que l’informatisation mur à mur des services est inadaptée aux besoins réels des chômeurs dont les demandes sont « irrégulières ».

Résultat : l’ajout d’un billet médical dans la demande d’assurance-emploi, ou la déclaration d’indemnités provenant de la CNESST par exemple, peut priver une personne sans-emploi de prestations pendant des mois.

À l’été 2020, le gouvernement Trudeau a promis d’adapter le régime d’assurance-chômage « à la réalité des travailleurs du XXIe siècle ». Or, tant et aussi longtemps que le gouvernement nie les dysfonctions profondes de l’appareil censé administrer le régime, les Canadiens risquent de ne pas voir la couleur des prestations auxquelles ils et elles ont droit.

L’amnésie du gouvernement a assez duré.

Source: Délais d’attente à Service Canada ou quand l’exception fait la règle

Passport delay task force wants something ‘tangible’ within weeks, minister says

Pure spin. IRCC and Service Canada are the responsible departments, Minister Fraser and Gould the responsible ministers. Conservative critiques of the task force as “a summer research project for Liberal ministers” is both clever and valid.

However, the broader systemic issue at play is that this government, in particular, but previous governments as well, are less interested in the nitty-gritty of service delivery as Heintzman recounts so well in Kathryn May’s The Achilles heel of the federal public service gives out again with passport fiasco:

The co-chair of a new cabinet committee struck to tackle massive passport processing delays says she’d like to see “something tangible in the next several weeks.”

Speaking at a funding announcement Tuesday in Toronto, Women and Gender Equality Minister Marci Ien said the committee is first speaking to the ministers responsible for files including passports, immigration and air transportation about the issues.

“We take that information and we go, so that process is happening right now, it’s started,” she said. “I would be a very happy camper, and I know my colleagues would be, if we had something tangible in the next several weeks.”

As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, Canadians are returning to international travel in droves, applying for a passport for the first time or renewing passports that expired during the pandemic. This has sparked long lineups at passport offices. In some cases, the police have had to be called due to altercations.

In response to the delays, the Prime Minister’s Office announced on Saturday the creation of a “task force to improve government services,” made up of 10 ministers and co-chaired by Ien and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller.

Asked about her understanding of the causes for the bottlenecks, Ien said “this is about listening first.

“That’s how I operate: I get the facts, I listen, and then I act, and my co-chair is the same,” she said. “I want Canadians to know that we are there for them, we are there with them, and we will get to the bottom of this.”

Unions representing workers who deal with passport intake and processing said they were flagging concerns to the government last year about imminent delays, partly due to the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

“They didn’t give us a clear answer on what the plan was,” Crystal Warner, national executive vice-president of the Canada Employment and Immigration Union, told the Star last week.

“There didn’t seem to be a lot of concern or consideration.”

Warner’s union represents Service Canada workers, including those who deal with passport intake.

The task force has not reached out to the union whose members are responsible for processing passport applications, said Kevin King, national president of the Union of National Employees. But he said he’s ready to engage with the ministers “at any moment in time.”

Speaking from Montreal, where the delays have been particularly brutal, King said he was beginning to see some improvements, including extra security personnel and more managers from other departments assisting staff.

“But these are very early days,” King said.

Social Development Minister Karina Gould, who is responsible for the passport file, announced last week that some specialized passport sites in large cities would implement a triage system to prioritize individuals travelling within the next 24 to 48 hours.

The Conservatives blasted the task force as being comprised of some of the government’s “worst-performing ministers,” saying in a statement Monday that more bureaucracy is not the answer to tackling the delays.

“Rather than focusing on resolving the crisis, hard-working public servants will now need to divert their attention to help a task force of Liberal ministers study the problem,” the statement said.

“Canadians need front-line workers processing applications and working through the backlog, not a summer research project for Liberal ministers.”

Source: Passport delay task force wants something ‘tangible’ within weeks, minister says

Applicants to Canada’s skilled-worker immigration program will soon face 36-month wait times, documents reveal

Yet another article on the delays in the federal skilled worker program, reflecting in part the government focus on meeting its target of 401,000 by giving priority to those already in Canada (TR2PR):

Kartikay Sharma has a master’s degree in civil engineering and works as a researcher in building energy efficiency — knowledge and skills that are highly sought after in Canada these days.

In fact, Canada had selected and invited the Indian man to apply for permanent residence back in December 2020.

Yet more than a year after that offer, the 27-year-old is still waiting for Canada to complete his application and let him into the country.

Sharma is among thousands of skilled immigration applicants overseas whose lives and plans are in limbo, as Canada has halted the federal skilled immigration program since then in order to prioritize applicants already in Canada and to address Afghan refugee resettlement.

“Whenever anyone is talking about backlog, no one is talking about backlog for federal skilled applicants overseas,” Sharma told the Star. “As all of us are awaiting our permanent resident visa, we face huge uncertainties.”

Canada’s skilled worker program, introduced in 1967, was the first in the world to recruit the best and brightest immigrants as permanent residents through an objective system awarding points to candidates points based on their age, language proficiency, education achievements and job experience.

Despite updates through the years, it has been a signature economic immigration program that brings in people based on their general skills, knowledge and experience, in order to fill Canada’s labour market needs.

According to an Immigration Department internal memo, processing time for skilled applicants is already at 20.4 months — more than three times the six-month target — and that’s expected to climb to 36 months this year.

Anyone interested in becoming a skilled immigrant to Canada must put their names in a pool; Canada normally makes regular draws from the pool and those who meet the threshold scores in each draw will be invited to apply. However, the number of skilled immigration candidates was forecast to grow to 207,000 by last December and, said the memo, the backlog must be reduced by half before any new invitations are issued.

Source: Applicants to Canada’s skilled-worker immigration program will soon face 36-month wait times, documents reveal

Canadian immigrants turn to MPs for help with official documents, but to no avail

Of note (MPs spend a lot of time on immigration and passport issues):

Canadian immigrants say they’ve been reaching out to their federal members of parliament (MPs) for help with their long-delayed immigration files.

For some, it’s been years since they first opened their files with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

“MPs used to be the higher level to try and get additional information and even MPs aren’t getting responses,” noted immigration lawyer Tamara Mosher-Kuczer.

Lately, IRCC has been blaming COVID-19 for serious delays — even though some immigrants say they applied for their visas, permanent residences and citizenship before the pandemic hit.

“We can still help them as we did before, but the answers from the department continue to reflect delays in the process due to COVID-19,” explained Anthony Housefather, MP for Mount Royal. “So, the service remains unchanged, but the processing times for almost all applications are slower.”

Mississauga – Erin Mills MP Iqra Khalid noted the federal government has proposed investing $85 million to “boost IRCC’s capacity and reduce processing times in these key areas affected by the pandemic.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the challenges that Canadian residents face, and IRCC is no exception,” said Khalid, who adds her office alone is tracking hundreds of active immigration cases with the department.

Federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser did not respond to CTV News’ request for comment.

Source: Canadian immigrants turn to MPs for help with official documents, but to no avail

Getting a Canadian study permit should take 13 weeks. So why are these Iranians waiting as long as two years?

Unclear but possibly security clearance-related:

Few graduate students have the experience and know-how in radiation and computer engineering that University of Saskatchewan professor Li Chen needs for his research.

In January 2020, through a network of academics in his field, he recruited Peiman Pour Momen, who had a master’s degree and appeared to be a perfect fit.

Momen was in Iran.

Now, almost two years after Chen offered the position on his team, the prospective PhD student is still waiting for a study permit to come to Canada.

And, after three deferrals for admission, the university has withdrawn his offer.

“I am devastated,” says Momen, 31, who has a master’s degree in computer engineering from the Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran.

“I’ve wasted 18 months of my life and still there is no end to this nightmare.”

The Canadian immigration department says on its website that the processing of study permits takes an average 13 weeks even now, in the midst of the pandemic. Some Iranian students say they have been waiting as long as two years, and that the delay is costing them career opportunities.

“We want Canadian authorities to expedite this process and stop discriminating against Iranian students,” Momen said. “We are losing our funded positions and universities may stop taking us for future projects because our study permits may not be issued on time.”

Chen, an electrical and computer engineering professor, says Momen would have been “a great asset to my research project.”

“He has a strong CV and the experience,” said Chen, whose research focuses on radiation effects in microelectronics and radiation-tolerant digital and analog circuits and systems.

“We’ve received funding ($350,000) for this project. Having strong students like him is key for our research.”

The number of study permit applications to Canada from Iran has been on the rise — from 7,336 in 2017 to 19,594 in 2019, before it dipped to 15,817 last year, due to the global pandemic. In the first seven months of this year, the immigration department received 12,843 Iranian applications.

The majority of the applicants planned to attend post-secondary education programs. Last year, for instance, almost 83 per cent of the 15,817 applicants were accepted by a college or university, including 5,356 in a master’s and 2,106 in a doctorate program in universities.

There were about 3,200 Iranian study permit applications in the system pending a decision as of the end of September, and more than half of those applications were for a post-graduate program.

It’s not just the lengthy processing time frustrating Iranian applicants, but also the increasing refusal rate.

The latest immigration data shows the refusal rates of study permit applications from Iran has doubled from 22 per cent in 2017 to 46 per cent so far this year.

So far in 2021, 53 per cent of the applicants accepted for a master’s program in university were refused, up from 10 per cent four years ago.

Arian Soltani, who has a master’s degree in software engineering in Iran, was accepted by the Université de Sherbrooke in May 2019 and was supposed to start in the fall of 2020.

He says he thought 16 months would be enough time to obtain a study permit; today his application is still pending “a routine background check,” the immigration department told the Star.

“Who, in their right mind, would believe a simple study permit application could take more than two years?” asked the 29-year-old, who decided to start remotely last year, hoping his study permit would come through eventually.

Soltani said it’s hard to concentrate on his PhD studies and research, with his mind preoccupied with his study permit situation and facing financial struggles to stay afloat without getting paid.

“I don’t have any access to my (research) funding since I reside outside of Canada. So I made a deal with my supervisor that I’d live off my savings until I get the visa,” he said.

“Those savings are long gone and now I am basically living off a mortgage.”

The immigration department said there are many reasons for the processing delays, including security screening, the “complexity” of a case, missing documents and problems in establishing identity — and disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s frustrating for anyone hoping to begin their studies in Canada when their application takes longer than expected, which has been the case for too many in the Iranian community,” said department spokesperson Rémi Larivière.

“Every application is handled on a case-by-case basis, and there’s no one simple explanation for how long it takes.”

He suggested that in some countries such as Iran, it can be more challenging for immigration officials and the applicant to obtain documentation, leading to longer processing times than average.

Maryam Sattari, who applied for her study permit in September 2019 and is still waiting, said she checks her application on the immigration department website religiously and there has been literally no update to her file from day one, other than a confirmation acknowledging the receipt of her application.

“My profile still shows that the application is under a background check,” said the 31-year-old, who has a master’s degree in photonics and was to start her PhD program in science energy and material at the National Institute of Scientific Research in Quebec last year.

“Unfortunately, they are not able to determine when my application will be finalized.”

Source: Getting a Canadian study permit should take 13 weeks. So why are these Iranians waiting as long as two years?

Hundreds of thousands of Canadian citizenship hopefuls waiting for applications to be processed

While immigration has started to recover from COVID lows, citizenship has largely not: less than 9,000 January-March 2021 compared to 61,000 for the same quarter in 2020:

In March 2020, Minakshi thought her journey to Canadian citizenship was coming to a close, as Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada set a date for her test.

Then the world changed before her eyes on March 11, exactly a week before her scheduled citizenship exam, as the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

The IRCC cancelled all tests, including hers, except for what it called a few “urgent” exams, held virtually.

“It does look like there’s some promising signs of spring ahead,” Sharma said, referring to the online testing process flowing more smoothly now.

But it is little comfort for Minakshi: “If I get the fourth fingerprint request next year, I’m going to withdraw my file,” she said.

Source: Hundreds of thousands of Canadian citizenship hopefuls waiting for applications to be processed

Pandemic pretext: More delays in long-awaited access to information answers

ATIP is far too often late and, as the examples below indicate, sometimes very late, in responding, with COVID-19 providing further excuses for delay:

Federal departments that have stalled access to information requests for three years or more are now citing the pandemic as the reason for further delays.

Emails are going out to people who make access to information requests, notifying them the requests are now “on hold.”

“We cannot send consultations out because most third parties, other government departments (municipal, provincial, territorial and federal) are closed or reduced to minimum employee capacity,” the department now says.

“So until we are given the green light to start processing consultations again, we won’t be able to process any of the records for your request. But in the meantime, we would like to know if you still wish to proceed with your request or if you wish to abandon.”

Rubin says Health Canada owes him answers to about a dozen requests dating back for years — one from 2014 about adverse pharmaceutical reactions including some deaths, one on drug licensing from 2015, others from 2016 and 2017. They now warn him of “possible delays in treating your request,” due to the pandemic.

“Openness, transparency and accountability are guiding principles of the Government of Canada. However, our ability to respond to requests within the timelines mandated by the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act may be affected” by the pandemic, the department says.

The Finance Department wrote him using the the exact same words.

National Defence says it has reduced staff in the access office and hasn’t enough secure lines to handle his requests remotely. They asked for Rubin’s consent to put the request on hold. Rubin said no.

“You have to push back,” he said. “A lot of people don’t consider this a human right. But it’s not just administrative.”

Public Service and Procurement Canada (PSPC) has several aging Rubin files, and he hadn’t heard about them either, until this month’s message that “PSPC’s network is currently limited to essential and critical services such as pay, pension and procurement. While we are committed to respecting your right of access and are actively looking for solutions to maintain operations, we have little to no capacity at this time.”

One department told him: “despite all our efforts, we will not be able to respond to your ATIP request within the legislated timelines.” The legislated timeline ended years ago.

“Our access to information legislation is so flawed that it’s possible for access to information requests to be delayed and delayed and delayed, which turns the whole purpose of the legislation into a joke,” said James Turk, director of the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University.

“The fact that people who haven’t heard for a year or two years are now getting a notice that it’s been delayed because of COVID reveals how badly flawed” it is.

“I like Ken’s remark that oh, it’s good to hear from you.”

He also noted that the lockdown shows the unevenness of government services, as some are cut off from paper documents while others shift to digital documents.

This newspaper asked Environment Canada more than a year ago for internal emails involved in sending out a single news release on climate change. This month, after our request passed its first anniversary, we asked how long it would take.
The answer: They were just about to send us the information, and then the lockdown hit.
The department promises a speedy answer once its office reopens.

Source: Pandemic pretext: More delays in long-awaited access to information answers

USA: Wait Times for Citizenship Have Doubled in the Last Two Years

Another illustration of the Trump administration’s anti-immigration policies:

After working through the Las Vegas summer lugging boxes and heavy furniture to raise money to apply for United States citizenship, Jose Silva plunked down the $725 fee in the fall of 2017, just days after he turned 18. “I hoped to vote in the midterm elections,” he said.

But it took until last week, more than a year and a half after he applied, for the college student to be scheduled for a citizenship interview, which he will have on March 20. If approved, Mr. Silva will take the oath later this year.

The time that aspiring Americans must wait to be naturalized is now almost twice as long, 10 months, as it was two years ago. In Las Vegas, where the office has a particularly large backlog, applicants could wait 31 months.

The delays come as the Trump administration tightens scrutiny of applications, diverts staff from reviewing them and introduces proposals likely to make it more difficult, and cumbersome, for green-card holders to qualify and complete the process.

Nearly nine million immigrants are eligible for citizenship. The steep application fee and the civics and English tests have historically deterred many from naturalizing. Instead, they renewed their legal residence every decade.

But the administration’s move to tighten restrictions on immigration have awakened many longtime permanent residents to the fact that a green card does not shield them from deportation. It has also compelled many to seek citizenship in order to cast a ballot, with hundreds of thousands of immigrants poised to become potential voters ahead of the 2020 election.

After supporting legislation that would cut overall immigration, President Trump recently championed the economic benefits of attracting foreign talent. In his State of the Union address, the president said he wanted “people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.”

Yet the lengthening backlog in applications is making it more difficult for immigrants to become civically engaged and to solidify ties to their adopted country, critics of the administration’s policies say. “Far from the public eye, the Trump administration is strangling the naturalization process,” said Steven Choi, a chair of the National Partnership for New Americans, a coalition of advocacy groups that is pushing to offer naturalization workshops and legal services to would-be citizens.

Coalition members filed a federal lawsuit in Los Angeles in September against the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that reviews the applications, challenging the processing delays.

The federal agency has blamed the delays on a sharp rise in applications.

“U.S.C.I.S. continues to adjudicate the pending naturalization caseload, which skyrocketed under the Obama administration, more than doubling from 291,800 in September 2010 to nearly 700,000 by the beginning of 2017. Now, despite a record and unprecedented application surge workload, U.S.C.I.S. is completing more citizenship applications, more efficiently and effectively — outperforming itself,” Michael Bars, an agency spokesman, said in response to emailed questions.

There have been bigger application spikes in the past, such as in 2007, when the caseload swelled to 1.4 million and the agency was able to work through the backlog by the following year. That has not happened with the current pileup.

A total of 750,793 applications were pending at the end of June, the latest period available. But the rate at which they are being processed is at the lowest in a decade, according to an analysis released this month by Boundless Immigration, a technology company in Seattle that helps immigrants obtain green cards and citizenship. The agency was able to work through only about half its applications in 2017, compared to about 60 percent in 2016. (Data for 2018 is not available.)

“Applications for citizenship have surged many times in the past and U.S.C.I.S. was able to bring enough resources to bear to tame them. Wait times have doubled and the agency is barely processing half of their backlog,” said Doug Rand, a founder of Boundless Immigration.

A Feb. 12 letter to the director of Citizenship and Immigration Services that was signed by 86 members of Congress raised concerns about the “alarming growth in processing delays” for naturalization and other services like green cards and visas.

It noted that the agency’s proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year included a request that more than $200 million of its fee revenue be transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that rounds up people for deportation.

“This appears to represent part of U.S.C.I.S.’s larger shift toward prioritizing immigration enforcement over the service-oriented adjudications at the core of the agency’s mandate,” said the letter, which sought details about efforts to reduce and eliminate backlogs.

Processing times vary across the country, depending on caseloads and staffing at regional offices. Applicants in Houston could wait almost two years; in Atlanta, the wait could be even longer. In contrast, those seeking citizenship in Louisville, Ky., have been completing the process in up to 10 months. In Buffalo, the wait is just over a year.

Citizenship applications are receiving additional scrutiny — and that is likely to intensify. The Trump administration says that it is placing a premium on integrity. But immigration lawyers and other experts report that officers are digging up information going back years to raise questions that are delaying, and jeopardizing, citizenship for many applicants.

“The Trump administration has infused the entire legal immigration system with skepticism, but naturalization should be different: These people are already here legally; they want to be citizens to better assimilate,” said Mr. Rand, who served in the Obama administration.

The government has also been taking a harder look at some immigrants who have already become citizens. Last year, the agency launched a denaturalization task force with the aim of stripping citizenship from people found to have committed fraud to obtain it.

Some applicants have shown up for their interview only to learn they could be deported.

“This past year, for the first time we have started to see people who apply for naturalization not only have it denied but also be placed in removal proceedings to take away their permanent residence,” said Ted Farrell, an immigration lawyer in Louisville.

Ahmed Bafagih, 31, a permanent resident since 2010, was denied citizenship after he told an officer during his interview last month in Houston that he was born in Kenya, not Yemen, as appeared in his file. He is appealing the decision.

“Acting in good faith, I tried to correct the error that would have gone unnoticed,” said the lab technician, who moved to Sana from Mombasa, his birthplace, when he was about 30 days old.

The denial, reviewed by The New York Times, stated that, “Your record reflects that there was fraud in procurement of your Legal Permanent Resident status,” referring to the erroneous birth certificate.

Mr. Bafagih’s Yemen-born parents and three sisters are American citizens.

His father, Jamal Bafagih, who won awards during 25 years of service with American government missions in the Middle East, including with the Pentagon and the Commerce Department, said: “I raised my kids to love this country. Suddenly when my son reports an error, it bounces back to hurt him; that leaves a very bad taste.”

Slated for implementation are a series of regulatory changes that are likely to make the process even more onerous.

One proposal would require many citizenship applicants to produce a decade of international travel history, rather than the current five; more documentation, like children’s birth certificates, which many refugees lack; as well as more information to ascertain “good moral character.”

The agency has also proposed narrowing the eligibility criteria for a waiver of the full $725 filing fee, which would reduce the number of low-income immigrants who could afford to naturalize.

Meanwhile, many agency officers who conduct citizenship interviews have been reassigned to the southern border to interview asylum seekers, whose cases the administration wishes to expedite, according to an agency official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak to the media.

For many of those waiting their turn, more is at stake than the simple pride of citizenship. Holding an American passport opens access to certain jobs, such as in law-enforcement agencies, and scholarships that are not available to noncitizens. Mr. Silva the applicant in Las Vegas, is studying Arabic, a language in high demand by government agencies, which often only hire citizens.

He’s studying at a community college, but hopes to transfer to a four-year university next year — and that’s another issue.

“My passion is languages,” said Mr. Silva, “and for scholarships I have found, you have to be a U.S. citizen.”