Canada pausing intake of highly skilled immigrant workers amid heavy backlog 

Money quote: “These reductions are due to admissions space required to accommodate the TR2PR [Temporary to Permanent Resident] stream and the resettlement of Afghan nationals to Canada.”

The former was a policy choice in order to meet the government’s fixation on meeting its target of 401,000; the latter reflected lack of foresight, common to many countries, and thus the need to deal with the crisis:

Canada’s immigration system for high-skilled workers is severely backlogged and even amidst a labour shortage, the government is pausing new invitations because the department simply can’t process them quickly enough, according to a briefing document.

Immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens obtained the document through access to information and provided it to the National Post. In the memo, department officials outline that “an estimated 76,000” applicants are in the inventory for federal high-skilled worker applications, which is more than what the government needs to meet targets all the way out to 2023.

The same memo says the express entry pool, which includes skilled workers, skilled trades and people with experience living in Canada, has more than 207,000 people in it.

Canada’s immigration plan has a variety of different classes, including skilled workers, provincial nominees, family reunification and refugees. The government has continued to process applicants nominated by the provinces, but other economic immigrants have been stalled since last fall.

People applying through the high skilled worker and trades program submit a variety of documents including a language test and then wait for an invitation to finish their application before it is processed.

With travel bans in place, high-skilled worker applications from overseas have been on pause since September 2021. Last year, the government still managed to hit its record-high immigration targets, but did so mostly by inviting people already in Canada on temporary permits or as students to become permanent residents through a new temporary resident to permanent resident program (TR2PR).

The government’s current immigration plan forecasts bringing in 110,500 skilled workers next year, but the department says in a memo that could have to be cut by as much as half, because the department has so much other work.

“These reductions are due to admissions space required to accommodate the TR2PR stream and the resettlement of Afghan nationals to Canada,” reads the memo.

The Liberals initially pledged to bring 20,000 Afghans to Canada, but during the fall campaign doubled the pledge to 40,000. As of the most recent update 7,000 of them have arrived in Canada.

A new departmental immigration plan will be tabled in Parliament when the House of Commons resumes in February.

The department aims for a six-month processing time for federal skilled workers (FSW), but in the memo they warned that could rise dramatically.

“Processing times are currently at 20.4 months (over three times higher than the service standard) and are expected to continue to grow as older inventory is processed. The FSW processing time is expected to rise to 36 months throughout 2022.”

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser was not available for an interview, but Rémi Larivière, a spokeswoman for the department, said the government will still bring in highly skilled workers, because so many are already in the queue.

“The already existing robust inventory of skilled candidates to process means that there won’t be a reduction in 2022 of the number of new skilled permanent residents arriving in Canada to work and settle,” she said in an email. “This pause is temporary; invitations to apply under the FHS streams will resume once the processing inventory is reduced enough to create space for new intake.”

Larivière said the fall fiscal update included measures to help reduce the backlog.

“The Government of Canada has proposed to provide $85 million in 2022-23 so it can process more permanent and temporary resident applications and reduce processing times in key areas affected by the pandemic.”

Conservative MP Jasraj Singh Hallan, the party’s immigration critic, said the delays are unacceptable.

“The massive backlog the Liberal government has created at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is not only hurting hard-working newcomers, families, immigrants and business owners, it also threatens billions of dollars of much-needed economic growth in Canada,” he said in a statement.

He said employers need workers and the government has to act quickly.

“Immigrants and Canadian employers cannot wait three years to have Federal Skilled Worker applications processed. It’s time for the Liberals to announce a precise date for when the pause on processing federal skilled worker invitations will come to an end.”

A Business Development Bank of Canada study from last fall found 55 per cent of Canadian businesses were dealing with labour shortages. They found that number was as high as 80 per cent in hospitality type businesses.

Potential immigrants to Canada are scored based on their level of education, language proficiency and other measures under the government’s Comprehensive Ranking System. The memo outlines that with the current state of applications someone would need a score over 500.

Betsy Kane, an Ottawa Immigration lawyer, said that is a very high score.

“What that’s going to mean is basically a young couple with very high education for both applicant and the person concerned, potentially only with executive-type job offers,” she said. “What it’s telling you is that only basically power couples are going to be who’s going to benefit from the 500-plus scores.”

Kane said with this backlog there are also going to be a lot of people on work or study permits who will need extensions because their application hasn’t been processed.

The federal Liberals have set targets to bring in more than 400,000 immigrants a year. Kane said they need more than lofty goals.

”The department has the capacity to do it. It just needs tools.”

She said that should include getting people back into the office to process applications, many of which come in on paper.

“This department is an essential service just like Canada Revenue Agency and just like the Canada Border Services Agency,” she said. “These guys should be back in the office.”

Sergio Karas, a Toronto immigration lawyer, said the department also has to start focusing more on what Canada’s employers need.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of adding personnel. I think it’s a matter of realigning priorities, and reassigning personnel to process the type of applications that the Canadian economy requires,” he said. “Employers are desperate for skilled trades for people who are highly skilled typically in the construction industry.”

Source: https://nationalpost.com/news/politics/canada-pausing-intake-of-highly-skilled-immigrant-workers-amid-heavy-backlog

Soon-to-be Canadians waiting in vain to hear about their citizenship applications

A backlog of close to 500,000, and a citizenship program has only recently started to get back to more traditional numbers of new citizens (close to 20,000 October 2021, compared to a pre-pandemic monthly average of 21,000). Will need to ramp up quickly to clear the backlog:

A large number of immigrants say they’ve been waiting months to hear back from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) about whether or not they will soon become Canadian citizens.

Parandis Haghnesarfard and her husband, who passed their citizenship tests in January 2021, say they feel like they’ve been left out in the cold by the Canadian government.

It’s been one year and the couple says they still don’t know if they will be called to take their oaths.

“My sister lives in the U.K. She had heart surgery and she needed my help to take care of her and his son,” Haghnesarfard said. “I haven’t seen my father in three years, my aunt passed away this summer and I couldn’t be there.”

It seems Haghnesarfard isn’t the only one sitting idly; dozens of families have written to CTV News asking for help with their citizenship applications.

“The only answer was, ‘sorry, please be patient,'” Haghnesarfard said. “I am tired of this answer.”

For its part, IRCC acknowledges that “some applicants have experienced considerable wait times.”

“Scheduling an oath ceremony usually takes four to six months after all criteria are positively assessed,” explained Isabelle Dubois, a spokesperson for the department.

Immigration lawyer Tamara Mosher-Kuczer argues the actual average wait time sits closer to 12 to 18 months.

“Pre-COVID-19, that would be a long delay,” she points out. “In COVID-19 [times], three to six months is not unusual. I have heard of some people still waiting to take the oath from pre or early pandemic.”

HELP FROM CTV NEWS

Mehrnoosh Djavid, a software quality engineer from Iran, was waiting for more than nine months to hear back about whether or not she would be called to take her citizenship oath when she wrote to CTV News.

She explains she lost her father two years ago, but hasn’t yet been able to go home to comfort her mother because of COVID-19.

“I cannot go and visit my family in Iran because the citizenship ceremony can happen anytime and I need to be present in Canada during this ceremony,” she said. “Also, I can not go to company conferences in the U.S. because I don’t have my Canadian passport. Basically, I can’t travel anywhere.”

She argues the selection process seems random, with some of her friends who applied for citizenship after her already receiving their new, navy blue passports.

After CTV News inquired in mid-December about her file, Djavid says she immediately received an e-mail notifying her that her citizenship ceremony would take place on Dec. 20.

“I still can’t believe it and don’t know how to thank you for your help and support,” she said. “It really means a lot to me and I’ll never forget your kindness.”

Similarly, Aida Rangy and Mostafa Darabi, who came to Canada in 2014 as international students and applied for citizenship in March 2020, did not hear back from IRCC until CTV News intervened.

“Having delays with the pandemic situation was understandable during 2020,” Rangy said. “We have many friends in Ontario, B.C. and even Quebec who applied for citizenship months after us and they have their passports now.”

The couple says they completed their citizenship application in May 2021.

“It’s not right. We are working in this community, paying taxes and doing our responsibility as citizens, but IRCC is not treating us as valuable members of Canada,” said Rangy.

After an inquiry by CTV News, Rangy and Darabi were called to take their oaths on Dec. 21.

“With your help now we are Canadian citizens,” Rangy said. “The best Christmas gift we could have. We booked tickets to visit our families in March. I can’t believe I can see them after almost two-and-a-half years.”

Malek Mohammad Karami Nejad, who works at Gameloft Montreal, and Vajiheh Roshan Nia, a substitute teacher and daycare educator with the Centre de services scolaire de Laval, have been in a similar position since their permanent residency cards expired.

“My wife has a lot of worry about her parents and I’m scared she will get ill with these stress pressures,” said Nejad. “From my company’s side, I need to travel outside Canada to other countries.”

The couple’s citizenship applications were approved in July 2021.

After a query by CTV News, IRCC confirmed the couple would be scheduled to attend their oath of citizenship ceremony on Jan. 17.

“I don’t know how to say thank you. Really appreciated and God bless you,” Nejad said. “You saved my time and my life.”

CTV News is still waiting for responses on at least 10 other dossiers.

BLAMING COVID-19

Mosher-Kuczer points out COVID-19 has exposed many cracks in the foundation at IRCC.

Since Afghanistan became an issue in August, they [IRCC] changed their messaging, and it’s such offensive messaging, in my opinion, because when you submit a web form, the response back is ‘we’re only dealing with priority requests and we won’t respond to other requests,'” she said. “Well, that’s offensive because everybody who’s contacting them, it’s a priority for them.”

The immigration lawyer points out it’s almost like a chicken-or-the-egg situation, where people are not getting any answers and are writing again and again to the department.

“Now you’ve got a system backlog — and you’re adding additional applications into this system backlog,” Mosher-Kuczer said. “With the pandemic, they’re understaffed, but I think they were always understaffed.”

She calls it a “failure of communication” on the part of IRCC.

“If they had some better messaging; if they came out and they said, ‘we understand that this is an issue,’ but they’re not doing that,” she stated. “They’re saying, ‘everything’s OK here, nothing to see. Don’t worry.'”

Mosher-Kuczer is calling on IRCC to, if they cannot speed up processing times, at least be honest with people.

“People are so angry. They’re angry, and they’re depressed,” she noted. “This is their dream and their hope for their future. They’ve made plans about buying houses, jobs, education based on processing times and based on where they thought they would be.”

Due to the pandemic, IRCC says ceremonies are taking place virtually.

“Some of the larger volume offices may be experiencing longer-than-normal delays given limitations of the virtual format,” Dubois noted, adding approximately 3,500 to 5,000 applicants are invited each week to take their oaths as Canadian citizens.

In a move towards better efficiency, IRCC has created an online tool for applicants to check their application status.

“Applicants do not generally receive any communication from IRCC until receiving their notice to appear for their video oath ceremony,” added Jelena Jenko, a department spokesperson.

Source: Soon-to-be Canadians waiting in vain to hear about their citizenship applications

Saunders: The pandemic exposed Canada’s inefficient immigration system. It needs to be scrapped and rebuilt

Good commentary:

For a surgeon who had been risking his life in pandemic-hit Canadian hospitals performing organ transplants, the April 14 invitation was a welcome gift. Despite his highly sought-after, life-saving skills and the risks he was taking to do his job, he’d so far had no pathway to becoming Canadian.

Then Marco Mendicino, the immigration minister at the time, announcedthat Canada would give permanent residency, and thus eventually citizenship, to 90,000 immigrants, refugees and foreign students currently living here on temporary visas and mostly doing in-person jobs deemed “essential.”

It was one part of a broad goal, announced earlier this year, to meet an ambitious target of 401,000 new Canadians in 2021, despite then-closed borders, mainly by drawing on the huge number of people already living and working here.

It sounds good – but the pandemic months have taught us that Canada does not have the immigration system to deliver it.

Almost immediately after that announcement, those invitations collided with a bureaucracy – including a Byzantine and outdated set of federal and provincial immigration rules – that all but prevented those worthy goals from becoming realities.

The transplant doctor soon noticed. He had been slowly accumulating points under Canada’s main immigration system, known as Express Entry, which grants points for things such as education and language fluency and requires full-time work experience in Canada. (Surgeons are classified as self-employed, so have a harder time earning those points.)

While the invitation was a gift, the rules all but prevented him from accepting it. His application – which had to be begun afresh, with no relationship to the existing paper trail of his Express Entry application – had to be personally submitted at a specific time on a weekday. This hours-long procedure on a newly created and deeply dysfunctional and crash-prone web portal was nearly impossible for a working surgeon. For some reason it forbade lawyers and immigration agents from helping, and reportedly barred applicants from working during the application process, which could drag on for months.

The long-standing rules also required him to submit the results of a fluency test in English or French. His language skills weren’t in doubt – you can’t be a high-level surgeon without them – but the testing centres had weeks-long delays, and the minister’s invitation had an hours-long application window.

Many people filed applications without the language test, hoping it could be added informally later. Months later, they found their claims were rejected without any communication from the department, and the whole system had to start again. It was an ordeal for a privileged surgeon; for the nurses and home-care workers for whom the program was intended, it was far worse.

“In 25 years of practice I have never seen the client service as poor as it is now,” says Barbara Jo Caruso, the surgeon’s immigration lawyer. “I think there is a fundamental disconnect right now. … The department needs to change the way front-line workers work, so they can be facilitative and solve problems by making a call. Otherwise they’re wasting enormous amounts of human resources doing the same things over and over.”

The major problem, says Andrew Griffith, a former director-general of Canada’s immigration department, is “not understanding the service needs of the target population.”

In essence, Ottawa is trying to force a growth-oriented policy through a haphazard, enormously complex and often uncommunicative set of provincial and federal bureaucracies that were constructed over the last five decades to restrict immigration and control numbers, and to administer a range of often contradictory immigration programs.

The result has been chaotic. Even though experienced front-line health workers ought to be the most desirable new Canadians, Ottawa was not able to come close to its target of 20,000 of them – after the deadline passed this summer, only 7,155 had reportedly been able to get their names on the list. Tens of thousands more simply could not manage to apply.

Other invitations suffered the opposite problem: The target of 40,000 student-visa holders who’ve completed their degrees was met in fewer than two days. Then a computer failure reportedly caused thousands more to be let into the system in a mess of false messaging and panicked confusion, so Ottawa had to give another 7,300 applicants admission.

Despite its high annual immigration targets (which will continue to rise), Canada has become notorious for its inability to turn people into immigrants and citizens without years of unnecessary delay and reams of procedures that can’t be navigated without a lawyer – even if you’re a nanny earning less than minimum wage. Ottawa currently says it has 1.8 million immigration applications stuck in the queue, many lost on the desks of an understaffed and overburdened public service.

A new Immigration Minister, Sean Fraser, was appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a few weeks ago. He ought to have one job: to scrap and rebuild the entire system, reducing the off-putting hodgepodge of outdated programs and procedures with a single, understandable and sensible immigration pathway for all applicants that actually serves the country’s needs. If nothing else, the pandemic months have taught us that we need to start afresh.

Source: Opinion: The pandemic exposed Canada’s inefficient immigration system. It needs to be scrapped and rebuilt

Canada has a backlog of nearly 1.8 million immigration applications

Striking. One of the disadvantages of IRCC’s shift to monthly stats was the elimination of regular reports on backlogs, and in the case of citizenship, application data. So having this information fills a needed gap in understanding IRCC’s operational challenges.

For citizenship, highest previous backlog was 323,000 in 2012, impact of Discover Canada study guide and related knowledge test, along with cutbacks in citizenship processing capacity in a government-wide program review exercise:

IRCC’s backlog stands at almost 1.8 million immigration applications.

CIC News has received data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) showing the following number of applications in IRCC’s inventory as of October 27, 2021 (figures are rounded):

  • 548,000 permanent residence applications (economicfamily, refugee, and humanitarian class applicants)
  • 776,000 temporary residence applications (applications for study permitswork permits, temporary resident visas, and visitor extensions)
  • 468,000 Canadian citizenship applications (as of October 26)
  • 1,792,000 total applications in inventory

IRCC’s figures indicate their backlog has grown by nearly 350,000 applications since July.

In August, a report by Nicholas Keung of the Toronto Star showed that the backlog as of July 6, 2021 stood at about:

  • 375,000 permanent residence applications 
  • 703,000 temporary residence applications 
  • 370,000 Canadian citizenship applications. The Star reported that this figure did not include Canadian citizenship applications sitting in IRCC’s mailrooms that have yet to be processed.
  • 1,448,000 total applications in inventory

In an email to CIC News, an IRCC spokesperson explained “Ongoing international travel restrictions, border restrictions, limited operational capacity overseas and the inability on the part of clients to obtain documentation due to the effects of COVID-19 have created barriers within the processing continuum. This hinders IRCC’s ability to finalize applications, creating delays that are outside IRCC’s control.”

At the same time, the spokesperson acknowledged the challenges that applicants are facing, noting “Despite our efforts, we know that some applicants have experienced considerable wait times with the processing of their applications, and we continue to work as hard as possible to reduce processing times. We thank them for their patience and understanding at this moment, and we look forward to welcoming them to Canada.”

IRCC also shared data on the number of applications it has processed during the pandemic:

  • 337,000 permanent residence applications processed between January and September 2021. It processed some 214,000 applications in 2020.
  • 1,500,000 temporary residence applications processed between January and September 2021. This compares to nearly 1,700,000 applications in 2020.
  • 134,000 Canadian citizenship applications processed between January and September 2021. This compares to about 80,000 applications processed in 2020.

Source: https://www.cicnews.com/2021/11/canada-has-a-backlog-of-nearly-1-8-million-immigration-applications-1119651.html#gs.gbfl8c

Big rise in Irish citizenship decisions this year after streamlining

Small numbers but recovery from COVID impact of note:

The Department of Justice is “on track” to make 11,000 citizenship decisions this year, despite the administrative difficulties created by the Covid-19 pandemic, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said.

The department made only 5,159 decisions last year, down significantly on 2019 (9,332) and 2018 (11,139). However, new temporary processes were introduced in January.

A number of changes to streamline the application process, and to facilitate immigration movements over the Christmas period, have been announced by Ms McEntee.

From January 1st, new applicants for citizenship will not be required to submit their original passport with their initial application. Instead they can submit a full colour copy of their entire passport, including the front and back covers, witnessed by a solicitor.

“I know that this change in practice will be very much welcomed,” Ms McEntee said. “They may need their passport to travel to see family or friends abroad, something many of us have not have been able to do for a long time due to Covid-19.”

The department is to introduce measures to streamline the system in January, including measures aimed at helping doctors working in the HSE or the voluntary hospitals in relation to proof of residence.

People who are entitled to receive a new Irish Residence Permit card may use their current expired card to enable them to depart from and return to Ireland over Christmas and until January 15th, 2022, the Minister said. The re-entry visa requirements for children under the age of 16 are also being suspended during this period.

“This will benefit up to 6,000 children and their families,” she said.

A residence permit card that was in date at the beginning of the pandemic in March of last year now has its validity period extended to January 15th.

Anyone travelling during this time will be able to print a copy of the travel confirmation notice provided by the department and display it with their existing card to show proof of residence when returning to Ireland.

The department is engaging with airline carriers to notify them of this new arrangement and to ensure that the process runs smoothly, the Minister said.

Source: Big rise in Irish citizenship decisions this year after streamlining

US citizenship naturalizations are highest in more than a decade [meanwhile in Canada …]

Striking difference between the USA and Canada, the former’s citizenship program having recovered from the pandemic, while the number of new citizens in Canada remains less than half of pre-pandemic levels. Australia was also much faster than Canada in moving to online testing and ceremonies. IRCC’s priority, as usual, the number of new Permanent Residents where the department is on track to meet its expanded target of 401,000 this year, more than recovering from COVID (wise or not):

The number of people who became naturalized US citizens in fiscal year 2021 was the highest in more than a decade, according to new data, surpassing the Trump administration-era high and rebounding after the pandemic had prompted office closures and service disruptions.

Around 855,000 people were naturalized during the fiscal year, which ended September 30, compared with 625,400 people in fiscal year 2020, according to data provided by US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In 2019, under the Trump administration, the agency reached an 11-year high of 843,593 naturalizations.
After struggles with processing and financial issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic, the agency has been able to ramp up naturalizations, USCIS Director Ur Jaddou told CNN.
“It is a tremendous value to the nation to have people that are lawful permanent residents become citizens, so we would like to encourage that,” she said, speaking at a naturalization ceremony at the agency’s headquarters on Tuesday.
In July, CNN first reported that the Biden administration planned to introduce an unprecedented effort to encourage eligible immigrants to apply for US citizenship, according to a USCIS official at the time.
The effort stems from one of President Joe Biden’s early executive orders that called on federal agencies to develop “welcoming strategies that promote integration, inclusion, and citizenship.”
“The idea is to find a whole-of-government way to reach out to people who are able to naturalize,” the USCIS official previously said, adding that there are 9 million people in the US who are lawful permanent residents who may be eligible to apply for citizenship.
Efforts, for example, could include holding naturalization ceremonies at national parks to raise awareness, partnering with the US Postal Service to display promotional posters and engaging with the Department of Veterans Affairs and veteran service organizations to find ways to educate service members and veterans on citizenship, according to the strategy, titled “Interagency Strategy for Promoting Naturalization.”
USCIS is working with 11 federal agencies to integrate and to promote naturalization, according to Jaddou, who said the agency’s role in processing applications for naturalization is only one part of the effort.
“We want to ensure that we are working together as a team to ensure that we’re promoting naturalization,” she added.
On Tuesday, Jaddou was joined by Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough and retired Army Maj. Gen. Viet Xuan Luong for a naturalization ceremony at which 12 active-duty military members became citizens in celebration of Veterans Day.
The new US citizens came from 10 countries: Cameroon, China, El Salvador, Ghana, Jamaica, Mexico, Nepal, the Philippines, Poland and Vietnam.
Another ceremony will be held Wednesday with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in Baltimore.
Asked how the Biden administration’s efforts contrast with those of the Trump administration, Jaddou said, “Number one is called public engagement.”
“That is one of the biggest things that we have changed, is to ensure that we’re working with the public in as many venues as possible,” she said.
The agency is also looking at streamlining its forms, said Jaddou. “Some of them are just too long and and too difficult to understand.”
The record for naturalizations was in 2008, with more than a million people becoming US citizens, an uptick that was attributed to upcoming fee increases and efforts to encourage eligible applicants to apply for citizenship.

Source: US citizenship naturalizations are highest in more than a decade

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?

New Zealand: Citizenship approval delays expected to ease mid-2022

Another country with processing delays:

The introduction of an online system and Covid-19 restrictions are being blamed for waiting times of up to a year – despite applicant numbers falling last year.

Government figures show 94,000 people have applied for citizenship since 2019, but only 64,000 have been approved. That includes citizenship granted to immigrants after at least five years of residence, and citizenship by descent, for overseas-born children of New Zealanders.

Citizenship by grant now takes 10-11 months to be looked at by a case officer and another one to two months to be decided after that. Citizenship ceremonies add another two or three months to the process, although they are suspended during the current outbreak.

Internal Affairs said it was focused on speeding up the process and it expected to reduce the backlog by the middle of next year.

It has taken on new staff and retrained employees who would usually issue passports.

So far this year, 26,000 people have applied for citizenship, and 11,700 were approved.

Case officers were first picking up a citizenship application five months after it was submitted, compared to a fortnight two years ago.

Internal Affairs said in a statement it understood delays in citizenship decisions impacted people.

“We have prioritised this backlog and created a specific programme of work to improve it,” said its general manager of service and access, Julia Wootton. “This includes more training, investing in technology changes to speed things up, establishing a temporary workforce dedicated to working though people’s applications.

“We are confident that the steps we have taken mean we will have the skills and processes in place early next year to ensure we can slow the backlog and begin to reduce it by mid next year.”

Staff were working hard to get back to much shorter timeframes after disruption caused by a ‘realignment’ of the department’s life and identity services in 2019, she said.

“There has been an increase in processing times for citizenship applications over the past 12-24 months as we move to a new citizenship processing system that incrementally improves citizenship services and is being built and introduced in stages. Until that is fully in place we are working in both the old system and the new. This system moves us from a manual paper-based system to an online system.

“Covid-19 lockdowns have affected our ability to deliver these services. Our citizenship system, which holds highly secure and privacy protected data about individuals and their families, is only accessed from our security-controlled offices. Citizenship is not considered an essential service so while the country or various regions are at alert level 4 or 3, we have limited staff on site delivering essential services only.”

Thirty new staff since July last year included 11 full-time employees and staff who could process passport or citizenship applications depending on demand. More staff were being added this month, Wootton said.

“A team of temporary staff has been brought on to process the approximately 9,000 cases that remain in our old system, freeing up existing staff to increase proficiency and speed in using the new system,” she said. “The new system gives us better data on applications, and enables us to adopt new ways of processing, including automating some assessments. We will soon roll out a feature which enables applications to be routed to appropriately skilled officers, depending on their complexity. These and other changes based on analysis of application trends will help us process more quickly.”

How many people applied for citizenship

  • 2019 – 35,274
  • 2020 – 32,030
  • 1/01/2021 – 22/09/2021 – 26,673
  • Total 93977

How many people had their citizenship approved

  • 2019 – 31,710
  • 2020 – 20,488
  • 1/01/2021 – 22/09/2021 – 11,719
  • Total 63917

Source: Citizenship approval delays expected to ease mid-2022

‘Forgotten Canadians’ are paying a price for delays in processing their citizenship papers. A new study reveals the real cost

Makes reference to earlier IADB study on economic impact of citizenship delays (Citizenship and the Economic Assimilation of Canadian Immigrants ):

An engineer for one of the world’s largest car manufacturers in Ontario, Syeda Umar says a Canadian passport will be handy for her to travel for work assignments — and crucial for advancing her career.

So as soon as the Pakistani immigrant met all the citizenship requirements, she submitted her application in September 2019.

Now, almost 22 months later, she is still waiting to be scheduled a citizenship exam stalled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Her job as a senior quality engineer requires her to deal with the company’s global supply chain and, at times, she’s expected to spend weeks and months overseas on assignment.

Due to the visa limitation as a Pakistani passport holder, Umar says twice so far her boss has had to ask her colleagues to step in to cover the business trips for her.

“This is starting to affect my job and my career,” says the 33-year-old Woodstock, Ont., resident, who arrived here in 2014 for a postgraduate degree at University of Waterloo and became a permanent resident in 2017.

“I feel extremely frustrated and sad.”

But even more is at stake with any prolonged delay in citizenship acquisition, according to a recent study by the Inter-American Development Bank that examined the relationship between citizenship and Canadian immigrants’ economic assimilation.

Source: ‘Forgotten Canadians’ are paying a price for delays in processing their citizenship papers. A new study reveals the real cost

Immigration New Zealand hires 100 as Beijing office shuts

Part of other office closures (Mumbai, Manila and Pretoria) given reduced volumes, with more “anchoring” of visa processing and “strengthening our risk and verification”.

INZ shed more than 300 jobs overseas as it shut branches in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, but recruitment had been on hold due to financial constraints.

It today announced its Beijing visa processing office would shut by the end of July, joining closures in Mumbai, Manila and Pretoria earlier this year.

Before Covid-19 struck, the Beijing office decided half of all New Zealand’s temporary visas.

One overseas visa processing office will remain – in Samoa – when the branch in China closes, although risk and verification staff will continue to work in other offshore locations.

“This is a continuation of INZ’s adaptation to the impact of Covid-19,” a spokesperson said.

“INZ is taking this opportunity to reduce costs, introduce advanced technology to improve efficiency, manage offshore risk more effectively and move visa processing activities onshore.”

Some of the newly recruited staff in New Zealand are understood to have been taken on to process residence applications.

The government asked for 50,000 to 60,000 new residents to be approved in the last 18 months under the residence programme (NZRP).

The NZRP is the framework for granting residence to skilled, family and humanitarian migrants. With one month left before the NZRP expires, it is 3500 away from the lowest end of that range.

In a statement, INZ said that from January 2020 to last month it had approved 46,562 people for residence.

“INZ continues to ensure that resourcing for the processing of skilled residence applications remains in line with the levels agreed to under the previous NZRP, as agreed with the previous Minister of Immigration,” INZ border and visa operations general manager Nicola Hogg said.

“Skilled residence applications are processed in INZ’s Manukau office. As at 21 May 2021, 85 immigration officers are responsible for processing skilled residence applications. Residence applications take time to process given how much there is at stake and the level of scrutiny required for each application.

“Recruitment throughout Immigration New Zealand’s onshore visa processing network is under way, with 100 vacancies recently being filled. This recruitment will allow INZ to increase its onshore visa processing capacity.”

The government is reviewing how it will draw up residence targets in future, alongside policy work on the skilled migrant category.

Among skilled migrant residence visas, the number of residents decided last month fell to 658, down from a high of 1925 in November. Rejection rates increased from 7 percent to 21 percent over the same period.

A quarter of applicants have been waiting two years for a decision.

For the past two months since March 2021, INZ has been working on applications made in August 2019.

Source: Immigration New Zealand hires 100 as Beijing office shuts