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

‘Special treatment’ – different wait times for NZ citizen applicants

Of note, another country with wait time and backlog issues:

Fadi Hamdan, his wife and twin five-year-old daughters will become citizens at a ceremony next month after waiting for a year.

The Auckland IT engineer, who comes from Jordan, said it was galling to see other people go through the same citizenship by grant process in four months – and some quicker still.

“There are people who get their citizenship in 10 days, exactly 10 days. It’s not only a small amount of people, there are 600 people. So there is a special treatment going on, nobody knows about it.”

He was disappointed at the time it took and the lack of information when he asked for updates, querying why his application had failed automatic checks.

While there were not many practical differences between permanent residence and citizenship, a New Zealand passport could make travel simpler for people from countries where visas were usually needed.

For Hamdan, it became critical when his mother fell ill.

“I’m worried about going to see my dying mum. She had a stroke three times. I lost my father in October 2020 during Covid, because of Covid, and I don’t want to lose my Mum.

“We are not asking for an exception, all we are asking for is to be treated fairly and kindly. It will mean a lot, to be honest. It’s the last milestone that we were looking for since we arrived in the country.”

As of 18 August, there were 29,200 applications awaiting an outcome. Of those 9161 were from last year.

A random snapshot showed that on 17 August this year, 179 applications were approved for 2021 and 238 for 2022.

The National Party’s internal affairs spokesman Todd Muller said the backlog was similar to where it was last year when assurances were given about bringing waiting times down.

People would approach their MPs concerned about why their applications had failed to progress.

“It just gives them a huge amount of anxiety because they’ve understood that now they can move from residency to citizenship, they’re told they’ve got everything in order and then it just gets dropped into a big black hole and they don’t hear anything.”

Internal Affairs seemed to be processing recent applications first, which left those already in the queue waiting longer, he said.

Internal Affairs said it was analysing those who failed automated checks and categorising them to speed up the process.

Sixteen staff had been moved over to deal with the surge in passport applications and would move back there.

“The pipe coming into the organisation is bigger than the number of people that we have who are doing this work, particularly when you think about these are the same people who are also looking at the massive surge in passport demand that we’ve had,” said Internal Affairs deputy chief of service delivery Maria Robertson.

Not requiring migrants from English-speaking countries to prove their language ability had sped up their applications, she added.

Internal Affairs said some applications would take longer if the applicant had changed their name, spent a lot of time outside New Zealand since obtaining residency or had committed offences.

Others could be rushed through in urgent situations.

“Some applicants may not have been required to understand English in order to obtain residency – citizenship legislation requires most applicants to have sufficient knowledge of the English language, so sometimes additional checks may be required.

“It is not always easily possible to tell why an application has not passed an initial automated check. It could be related to data from INZ or another government agency or an answer in an application.

“Frontline staff who answer queries from applicants who have not yet been assigned a case officer do not have access to all the relevant information in an application.”

Source: ‘Special treatment’ – different wait times for NZ citizen applicants

International students waiting for visas from Ottawa at risk of missing start of classes

An unfortunate additional example at IRCC. Given this and other examples, perhaps time for the government to scale back to program capacity, rather than failing to meet service standards and expectations:

Delays in processing student visas have put a large number of international students at risk of missing the start of fall classes this year, as the federal Immigration Department struggles to keep up with what it describes as a surge in applications.

The issue has sparked a complaint from the Indian High Commission in Ottawa, which said in a statement that it has received a number of petitions from Indian students frustrated with lengthy wait times for visa processing.

India is Canada’s largest source country for international postsecondary students. Students from outside Canada pay tuition fees that are often more than two or three times higher than those paid by domestic students, and that money has become a crucial source of funding to universities and colleges across the country.

According to the Immigration Department, the number of student visa applications is growing. Canada received more than 123,000 applications for student visas from India in the first five months of this year, an increase of 55 per cent over 2019, according to Aidan Strickland, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Sean Fraser. So far this year, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has processed more than 360,000 student visas, a 17-per-cent increase over the same period in 2021.

Students apply for the study permits only after they have been accepted to Canadian universities. Until their visa applications are processed they aren’t allowed to enter Canada to study – and that is true even if they have already paid tuition, or taken out student loans.

Ms. Strickland added in a statement that IRCC is still struggling with the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its operations around the world. She said the government is prioritizing applications from students aiming to begin their studies in September, but that not all applications will be processed in time for fall 2022.

“IRCC has seen an unprecedented volume of applications received for both initial study permits and extensions in 2022, not just from citizens of India but on a global scale,” Ms. Strickland said.

The number of students affected is not clear, but Canada’s diplomatic mission in India said in a tweet last week that a “large number” had experienced long wait times or not received visa decisions.

Federal data show that, as of the end of July, 34 per cent of pending international student visa applications were taking longer to process than government standards dictate.

Indian students contribute more than $4-billion in tuition fees to Canada’s postsecondary system, according to the statement from the Indian High Commission. More than 230,000 Indian students are enrolled at Canadian schools, the statement said.

At the University of Toronto, the number of students contacting registrars with study permit concerns is higher than usual, the university said in a statement. The university said it has been in constant contact with IRCC, and with the Minister’s office directly, to advocate for timely processing of study permit applications and to explain the impact of the delays on students. The statement added that any students unable to enter the country because of the delays can seek deferrals if they are eligible.

Gautham Kolluri, an international-student recruiter and immigration consultant based in Waterloo, Ont., said the number of students affected is likely in the thousands.

He said these are students who have accepted places offered to them at Canadian universities or colleges and expected to have their student visas approved in a matter of weeks. Instead, the process is taking months.

One client of his waited six months to get a study permit, he said.

Mr. Kolluri said he is advising some clients that they are unlikely to receive approval from IRCC before classes begin. At this point, he said, he’s recommending they defer until the next available intake, which can mean a delay until January, or in some cases until next September.

“They’re devastated. For them it’s their studies, but also their future career and opportunities in Canada that are affected,” Mr. Kolluri said. “We are losing these kind of good students who could make a contribution to Canada.”

Most students in India take out education loans in their home countries before coming to Canada. Mr. Kolluri said the interest on those loans starts accumulating even if the students haven’t been able to begin their studies, adding to the pressure they feel if there are problems with their study permits.

Before the pandemic, he said, visa approvals often came through in two to three weeks, and in some cases as quickly as 48 hours. Now, IRCC’s website says it takes up to 12 weeks on average for a study permit application from India to be approved. The target is eight weeks, according to the department.

Ms. Strickland said Mr. Fraser has announced that he expects to hire an additional 1,250 officers by the end of fall to tackle application backlogs and processing delays, paid in part with $85-million in additional funds directed to the department in the government’s 2021 fiscal update.

Source: International students waiting for visas from Ottawa at risk of missing start of classes

Hospital staff shortages: Immigration backlog leaves professionals on sidelines

Of note, appears that the bottleneck more immigration-related than credential recognition delays:

As hospitals across the country struggle under the weight of major staffing shortages, an immigration backlog described by lawyers as the worst they have ever seen is leaving qualified health professionals sitting on the sidelines.

In Februrary 2021, Sharlene Ullani applied for a permanent resident card after years spent working in Canada as a caregiver for children. Eighteen months later, the internationally trained nurse with more than seven years experience hasn’t heard anything from Immigration Canada about her application status.

Online, the government estimates the processing time for new permanent residence cards is 2.6 months, or 81 days, as of Aug. 2.

“I’ve been sending emails two times a month and the answer is always the same: ‘You have to wait, thank you for your patience. We have this pandemic’,” she told CTV National News.

Ullani currently holds a temporary work permit, but it does not allow her to switch jobs — even from a caregiver for children to a caregiver for adults — without losing status. In the months since she filled an application for permanent residency, Ullani has written exams and completed the paperwork necessary to get her foreign credentials translated into a valid licence to work in Ontario as a registered practical nurse.

“It is heartbreaking to see nurses working so hard and we are here, willing to help,” she said. “We are willing to help, but we cannot do so because of our status.”

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario said there are roughly 26,000 nurses “ready and waiting” to work in Ontario, 14,000 of those are registered nurses. CEO Doris Grinspun says the great majority of those people are waiting for their international qualifications to get approved by the college, but thousands have already passed their exams and are waiting for their immigration status to change so they can work.

“The big impact of the backlog for patients is that they are either being short changed in the quality of care or they are not getting care all together,” she said. “If you look at home care, they are likely not getting care all together. If you look at ICU or ER that are closing down or shrinking, even in an emergency, it is desperation.”

Recently, Grinspun worked with the federal government to approve the immigration applications of 26 nurses. Given the health care staffing crisis across the country, Grinspun said the government should prioritize applications filed on behalf of applicants with backgrounds in health care, especially nurses.

“Having internationally trained nurses, RPN … able to join the workforce when they are ready to work in Ontario, and especially those who have already passed their exams and are just waiting on work permits by the feds, move them on. Move them on because nurses and patients need them desperately,” she said.

Speaking at a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, NDP leader Jagmeet SIngh echoed Grinspun’s calls, saying he has called on Ottawa to implement a fast track immigration system for qualified health-care workers. Singh said he does not know why Ottawa has not yet followed through.

“There is no excuse for this,” Singh said. “I can’t understand why the government is not willing to do this… We need to respond in an urgent way because these are folks who can work here and want to work here.”

In June, the immigration department said more than 2.4 million applications were in the backlog, up from 2.1 million in June. CTV News reached out to the department multiple times for updated figures, but did not hear back at the time of publishing. The department said it usually takes five business days to process and gather statistical data.

Toronto Immigration lawyer Chantal Desloges attributes the backlog to a “perfect storm” of factors related to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many embassies and consulates closed and immigration staff started working from home.

“When everyone else was doing business online, it wasn’t that easy for the government to pivot,” she said. Desloges added that when offices were closed, applications were still being submitted, but nobody was there to process them.

“All of these things happening at the same time just made a toxic soup of circumstances.”

To speed up the process, Desloges said immigration staff who can’t do 100 per cent of their job from home should be ordered back into the office. She also suggests the government could expedite the approval process by reducing the number and frequency of applicant interviews.

“It is really hard to predict how long it is going to take to sort this mess out, if ever,” she said.

On Tuesday, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) introduced new measures to speed up the processing of applications for foreign nationals with expired or expiring post-graduation work permits, and for temporary resident to permanent residence pathway applicants. Under the change, individuals in either of those cases will have their current work permits extended while their applications are being processed.

Director of Policy at CanadaVisa.com Kareem El-Assal applauded the change, but said it should have been implemented back in 2020.

“This is a solution that should have been adopted since the start of the pandemic and would have saved applicants a lot of heartache and would have actually saved the canadian government a lot of time as well,” he said.

As delays drag on, applicants like post doctoral researcher Julie Ottoy are left in llimbo, unable to leave the country or attend international conferences for work.

“It is very frustrating,” she said. “It’s been close to five months now not hearing from IRCC and interestingly, last year I submitted this application around the same time and the exact same renewal was approved in two weeks.”

Source: Hospital staff shortages: Immigration backlog leaves professionals on sidelines

LILLEY: Feds allow illegal immigration to flourish while the legal system fails

Apples and oranges comparison between irregular arrivals and those who come through the regular immigration processes but does highlight the backlogs and the damage to trust in and credibility of government:

Canada has long had an immigration system that worked — one that we could be proud of — but right now, no one can say that. Like so many government services these days, the immigration system simply isn’t working like it should.

Now we face an incredible backlog for legal immigration while people stream across the border illegally at will, something that’s relatively new in this country.

Unlike in the United States, immigration has never been a political hot potato thrown around between the two main parties.

There have been differences throughout the years, with Liberals tending to favour increases in family reunification, while the Conservatives have placed an emphasis on economic migration. Both main parties have supported high levels of newcomers to this country.

I was born in this country, but only three years after my parents immigrated. That process, according to my mother, took only a few months.

But now, it’s too often taking years for people simply to have their application processed under what are called “express” conditions.

Right now, there is a backlog of more than 2.4 million applications, an increase of more than a 250,000 from just a couple of months ago. That’s an untenable position for our system to be in and a hopeless one for those waiting for word on whether they can come to Canada.

According to the federal government’s website, it takes 42 months to process the application of someone coming in under the federal skilled trade program. That works out to three years and six months just to have your application processed.

Who would want to wait that long?

The Quebec business class program takes 63 months to process applications, while the provincial nominee program “express” track takes 21 months. On what planet is 21 months processing time considered express?

It takes almost two years to sponsor a spouse and just shy of three years to sponsor your parents.

Meanwhile, anyone willing to take a flight to JFK in New York City and then make their way to Roxham Road in Quebec can simply walk across the border and be welcomed to Canada. The number of people crossing at Roxham Road has far surpassed pre-pandemic levels.

After dropping from 1,500 to 2,000 per month to just a few dozen a month during the pandemic, the numbers are now about double. For example, the 3,449 people who crossed illegally this past May is double the previous high for that month in 2018.

We are now seeing higher numbers than ever before enter Canada illegally, while our legal immigration system can’t process people.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault has called for the Roxham Road crossing to be closed, saying his province’s social services are being strained by a lack of federal action. Legault has rightly pointed out that many of those crossing aren’t refugees, they are economic migrants.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in response that closing the crossing won’t stop people crossing illegally, and instead has now started to transfer people to Ottawa and Niagara Falls.

All of this undermines faith in and support for our immigration system as a whole. How can Canadians, or those hoping to become Canadians, have faith in a system that can’t process applicants following the rules but can constantly expand for those going around the rules?

Like passports, customs and airport screening, the immigration department is another example of the federal government not being able to get the basics right.

If the minister can’t fix this, maybe he should look for applicants in that backlog who can and step aside.

Source: LILLEY: Feds allow illegal immigration to flourish while the legal system fails

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

Immigration backlog in Canada reaches 2.4M

Good overview of the backlogs, with helpful charts (nice to see CTV investing in good data journalism). The pandemic, like in so many areas, highlighting long-standing government management and operational issues, one that IRCC has started to address but is a multi-year project given IT and other modernization:

The immigration backlog in Canada has ballooned to 2.4 million people, with over 250,000 applications adding to the pile over a one-month span alone.

That’s according to recent data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) across all categories, from temporary residence and permanent residence to citizenship applications.

“I have not seen backlogs like these in 16 years of my career as an immigration lawyer,” Rick Lamanna, director at Fragomen Canada, an immigration services provider, told CTV News in a phone interview on Thursday.

“Prior to the pandemic, things were running fairly well.”

The increased backlog has already led to frustrations for those waiting to receive an application update from IRCC.

The recent data only raises more questions than provides answers to the applicants in limbo.

Can’t see the graphs below? Click here

Despite being among the top five destinations with immigrant-friendly policies around the world, Canada is seeing an upward trend in backlogs since the pandemic.

Long processing times and a lack of communication and transparency are some of the many issues highlighted by families that reached out to CTVNews.ca.

‘EXTREMELY STRESSFUL’

Lamanna said changing processing times are preventing families and even businesses from planning anything ahead of time.

“If you were to go online right now, and take a look at the processing time, out of India, it’s taking close to a year,” he said.

Part of the problem he pointed out is that IRCC faced a cascading effect from the fall of Afghanistan and then the pandemic.

During COVID-19, IRCC staff was not deemed as “essential workers” so the backlogs only started to grow. Now with the Ukraine war, there is a massive backlog, he adds. Between March 17 and June 8, 2022, 296,163 applications were received under the program.

For most, the long delays have postponed their life decisions as they continue to wait in another country.

Kazim Ali applied for permanent residency through the Express Entry program in 2020 from Pakistan and has been waiting since to receive an update. He said he has no idea how long he has to wait until he begins his new life in Canada with his wife.

“Our lives have come to a screeching halt because of a lack of communication and no clear timeline on the processing delays,” Ali said in an interview with CTVNews.ca from Pakistan over a zoom call on Wednesday.

Ali said the estimated processing time was six months at the time of submission.

Despite repeated emails, Ali’s application seems to have come to a screeching halt. He said the IRCC helpline is of no help to those outside Canada.

He was told to reach out to the visa office that is processing his application. Currently, it lies in the London, UK office with no updates.

Ali has put a stop to his long-term plans–including his career, buying a home, and family planning.

He said the wait is now taking an agonizing toll on his mental and emotional health and has been “extremely stressful” for the couple.

“IRCC really needs a reality check and needs to understand that it is not only processing a bunch of papers but making decisions that are affecting lives of families and generations to come,” Ali said.

In an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca, IRCC’s communications officer Jeffrey MacDonald said that application inventories grew during the pandemic while health and travel restrictions were in effect, and it will take some time to fully recover.

McDonald said IRCC is moving towards a more integrated, modernized, and centralized working environment in order to help speed up application processing globally.

He said IRCC is also working to improve the level of service at the Client Support Centre (CSC).  Between April 2021 and March 2022, IRCC’s CSC communication lines received over 10.5 million inquiries (8.6 million by telephone and 1.9 million by email).

‘COVID IS NO LONGER AN EXCUSE’

But Mustakima Gazi, who works as a long-term care pandemic resident assistant, said COVID-19 can no longer be an excuse.

Gazi, a Canadian citizen from London, Ont., has been waiting for her husband’s spousal application since December 2021 and has seen incremental progress since she last spoke with CTVNews.ca in May.

But despite the application reaching the next stage, she remains discouraged.

The couple is a part of a Facebook community that includes families waiting for IRCC updates. She said that some who had submitted the request for medical exam ( a requirement for those filing for permanent residency) last year have still been waiting to get an update from IRCC.

Gazi’s husband lives alone in the Netherlands and with his application in limbo, is under immense mental stress.

Making matters worse, she said, are the processing times on the online portal that keep changing.

She said one would think that the processing time would decrease as applications are being processed.

“But that is not the case,” she said. “At one point the estimated time was 12 months, and the next week it was 23 months.”

Processing times for different visa categories [May vs. June]

Data was retrieved on May 6, 2022 and June 14, 2022 for comparison purposes and is subject to change on the website due to fresh updates.

Page 1 of 2

Table with 3 columns and 54 rows. Currently displaying rows 1 to 30.

Categories 14-Jun-22 6-May-22
PR Cards
Waiting for the first card 71 days 99 days
Renewing or replacing a PR card 60 days 70 days
Citizenship
Citizenship grant 27 months 27 months
Citizenship certificate (proof of citizenship) 17 months 17 months
Resumption of citizenship 23 months 23 months
Renunciation of citizenship 15 months 15 months
Search of citizenship records 15 months 15 months
Citizenship for adopted persons Part1: 10 months Part1: 12 months
Part 2: Varies by complexity Part 2: Varies by complexity
Family Sponsorship
Spouse or common-law partner living inside Canada 15 months 15 months
Spouse or common-law partner living outside Canada 23 months 22 months
Dependent child depends where the child lives depends where the child lives
Parents or grandparents 34 months 33 months
Adopted child/relative depends where the adopted child/relative lives depends where the adopted child/relative lives
Temporary residence (visiting/studying/working)
Visitor visa (from outside Canada) depends from where you are applying from depends from where you are applying from
Visitor visa (from inside Canada) Online: 166 days Online: 16 days
Paper: 29 days Paper: 27 days
Visitor extension Online- 196 days Online- 214 days
Paper:214 days Paper:216 days
Supervisa (parents/grandparents) depends where they live depends where they live
Study Permit (from outside Canada) 12 weeks 11 weeks
Study Permit (from inside Canada) 3 weeks 3 weeks
Study Permit extension Online: 65 days Online: 60 days
Paper: 193 days Paper: 219 days

Processing times vary based on: if the application is complete, how quickly applications are processed after they are received, how easily information is verified, how long the applicant takes to respond to any requests or concerns other factors. Additional information depends on the visa category applied for and is on the website.

Table: Deena Zaidi/CTVNews.ca Source: Government of Canada Created with Datawrapper

Gazi has tried to call IRCC many times to get more information on our application, hoping to speed things up, but has never been able to reach anyone who could provide her any answers on the status.

“Sometimes the helpline just gets disconnected without even putting me in a waiting line,” she said.

The one time that she got connected, the IRCC agent tried to help but could not provide any updates since the application was being processed outside Canada.

“Everyone is fighting a battle and trying their best to get through these hard times. We want to be close to our families who can support us,” she said. But the delay is leading to nothing but desperation.

‘ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION’

Among those frustrated by the lack of communication and transparency is Anne Marie Trad, a Canadian citizen waiting to be with her husband, Pierre Ajaltouni, since 2019.

The couple married in 2018 in Beirut, Lebanon and Trad filed for a spousal visa from there in 2019.

It has been over 50 months since.

Trad has tried all the routes to get updates: she contacted the MP office, reached out to her local MP, filled out web forms, and called the IRCC helpline. But nothing has helped.

Her husband’s spousal application was filed outside Canada (Beirut) so navigating through the application status is more complicated than those processed in Canada.

Trad said the status has been saying “doing a background check” since 2019.

In hopes of a quicker route, she filed for a visit visa from Canada in 2020. But even that has seen no momentum.

Trad last visited her husband in August 2021 and now worries that with Lebanon’s ongoing crisis, it could be increasingly difficult to make these visits.

The three-year wait has taken a toll on the couple’s mental health – leading to anxiety, and depression. Trad said her husband has lost a lot of weight and she is concerned about his health.

The couple took a legal route last year to get immigration officials to act on files caught up in delays – a writ of mandamus.

The legal route is definitely not cheap, Trad said, but she sees no better option to speed up the process.

“We just want to get our life back on track after wasting three years in waiting,” she said.

WHAT IS IRCC DOING?

MacDonald said that a number of factors can impact the application and these include the type of the application submitted, and how well and quickly applicants respond to the IRCC requests. These requests include biometrics and additional information. Verification and complexity of the application can also affect the processing time of an application.

To support the processing and settlement of new permanent residents to Canada, the government has committed $2.1 billion over five years and ongoing $317.6 million in new funding announced in Budget 2022.

With additional funding of $85 million from the 2021 Economic and Fiscal Update, IRCC is looking to reduce application inventories accumulated during the pandemic by hiring new processing staff, digitizing applications, and implementing technology-based solutions such as digital intake and advanced analytics.

Lamanna said the hiring will help reduce the backlogs but that itself will take some time.

“Even if IRCC hires more people, it could take months before any group of new hires is actually effective in tackling the backdrop since that would require new training,” he said.

He said digitizing is a step in the right direction but even that could take years before it is finally implemented and may not assist those who are currently waiting and may help new applicants in 2023.

“It is a very difficult situation,” he said.

HOW DID IT GET SO BAD?

Many immigration law firms have seen a spike in the mandamus applications. In over 10 months, Toronto -based law firm, Abramovich & Tchern has processed over 200 mandamus files.

It is unfortunate that applicants have to take this route, Lev Abramovich, an immigration lawyer at Abramovich & Tchern, told CTVNews.ca on Thursday.

Abramovich, who is not representing any of the applicants in this story, said it wasn’t COVID-19 itself that created the backlog, but it ultimately revealed the “archaic structure and the management style that is not very agile.

”After the pandemic hit, processing centers were operating with very limited capacity, and that partly contributed to the increasing backlogs.

Some application categories filed during the pandemic were paper-based and lay in offices, gathering dust for many months.

Abramovich said most mandamus applications his firm has received have been from countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, India, and China.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

Lamanna said one of the solutions is focusing on prioritizing groups or processes and fixing them instead of trying to have a catch-all approach. “So, people understand how to process these applications,” he said.

Abramovich said the existing system needs to be “centralized and agile.”

Many times, an application is stuck in an office outside Canada that may be partly functional due to a number of reasons such as shut down or remote work orders.

He said a centralized agile system would manage applications by redistributing them in different offices.

“And they will be processed, more or less based on when they came in, not based on the country of nationality or other factors which is deeply unfair,” Abramovich said.

Abramovich said the new immigration minister inherited the existing system and has been open to dialogue, and that an independent review could provide recommendations for a long-lasting change. He added an impartial investigation to understand the actual root causes will only help prevent something like this from happening in the future.

“We are dealing with human lives here and let’s not pretend it has something to do with COVID-19 and that finances alone are going to be sufficient,” he said.

Source: Immigration backlog in Canada reaches 2.4M

 

Immigrants are suing the U.S. government over delays in citizenship process

Of note. Comparable delays as in Canada, although initial progress on reducing backlog. Canadian applications are stored in the IRCC Sydney processing centre (unless changed since my time), certainly more accessible than a cave in Kansas city:

A group of immigrants is suing the U.S. government, claiming that unreasonable delays have kept their citizenship applications on hold for years. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is the agency responsible for processing applications. But the recent lawsuit alleges that the agency moved a mass amount of applications to a storage facility at the beginning of the pandemic and never retrieved the documents, stalling the immigrants’ hopes of becoming U.S. citizens. Now that the agency is working at full capacity again, the applicants are demanding prioritization.

We wanted to know more about what’s going on here, so we called Kate Melloy Goettel. She is the legal director of litigation at the American Immigration Council, the legal nonprofit bringing this lawsuit on behalf of immigrants. Kate Melloy Goettel, welcome.

KATE MELLOY GOETTEL: Hi, Elissa.

NADWORNY: So first, can you give us the background on filing this lawsuit?

MELLOY GOETTEL: Yeah. So we started hearing a couple of months ago that people were really frustrated that they had filed for naturalization about two years ago and that their applications were stuck. For a lot of people, they were looking towards November and want to be able to vote in the election then. Others just want to be a bigger, fuller member of U.S. society. And so they were getting frustrated that their applications were stuck, and they had learned that it was because their immigration files needed to be retrieved from the National Records Center that operates a limestone cave in the Kansas City area.

NADWORNY: So the crux is that the files are not in the place they need to be.

MELLOY GOETTEL: Exactly.

NADWORNY: And is that what the government is saying is the reason for these delays? Have they provided a response?

MELLOY GOETTEL: Well, so a lot of the applicants know through their attorneys that their immigration files need to be retrieved. Some of them have heard, in fact, that they’re at these National Archives cave in the Kansas City area, while others have just learned that they’re not moving forward because their immigration files are delayed, and they need those immigration files to go forward with scheduling the naturalization interview and then continuing with the sort of bureaucratic processes that have to happen before the final step of swearing the oath as a naturalized U.S. citizen.

NADWORNY: Can you tell me about some of the clients you represent?

MELLOY GOETTEL: One of the clients is Thomas Carter (ph). He’s filed suit because he’s very fearful that he and his husband could be separated if they don’t share the same citizenship. He also has an infant child, and I think that that has really encouraged him to want to have roots in the United States with his newly growing family. He’s also anxious to participate in the electoral process and to put down roots, so he’s one of the applicants who has been waiting since 2020 to be naturalized.

NADWORNY: What are you asking the court to do?

MELLOY GOETTEL: So we’re asking the court to tell the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as well as the National Archives to prioritize these naturalization applications and to go in there and try to get these applications out so that they can move forward with processing the applications. As you can imagine, there’s a number of steps and bureaucratic process that has to take place in order to approve someone for naturalization, and that process takes many months. And so we’re really down to the wire now to get people naturalized for November’s election.

NADWORNY: So some reports say that it can take up to 24 months to complete the naturalization process. I’m wondering, how is what’s happening here different than the wait times applicants typically experience?

MELLOY GOETTEL: Well, the wait times that USCIS has recently published have been around 11 months. But what we also know more anecdotally is we’re hearing many, many stories of people who filed after these 13 plaintiffs getting scheduled for their naturalization interviews and actually going forward and taking the naturalization oath. So we know that they’re not processing these in any sort of systematic line but rather that there are people who applied in 2020 who are just stuck because, frankly, their immigration files are stuck.

NADWORNY: Yeah, because these are stories, you know, that – they have implications for their family, for their life. You know, it’s…

MELLOY GOETTEL: That’s right.

NADWORNY: …This ripple effect. Your organization is representing 13 named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, but how many are actually impacted here?

MELLOY GOETTEL: Well, we don’t know the exact number of how many are impacted, but I can tell you that since we filed our lawsuit, we have heard so many stories from individuals and from their attorneys that are stuck in the same position. So we do think this is a fairly widespread problem, and we’re hoping that, through this lawsuit, that we can really encourage the agency to prioritize naturalization and prioritize getting those files out and getting them scheduled.

NADWORNY: You’ve mentioned there is kind of a looming deadline. Your clients want to be able to vote in this year’s election this fall. Tell me about the timeline. Is that going to be possible?

MELLOY GOETTEL: With prioritizing naturalization applications, it totally could be possible. And what we want to point to is this administration, their own words and their own commitment to naturalization. In the early days of the Biden-Harris administration, they issued an executive order specifically calling out better processing of naturalization applications and, you know, talking about how important naturalization is. And so we really want them to live up to those words that they said in the early days of the administration and make this a priority. We think if it can be a priority, that that is a realistic timeline to get this done in the next six months.

NADWORNY: That was Kate Melloy Goettel. She is the legal director of litigation at the American Immigration Counsel. Kate, thank you so much for being with us.

Source: Immigrants are suing the U.S. government over delays in citizenship process

Minister Fraser participates in Citizenship Week ceremony – Some updated data

Of course, the Minister and supporting documentation picks the most favourable timeline and is silent how the program largely shut down in 2020. That being said, IRCC has ramped up the program and if they are able to maintain the rate of 3,000 per month as stated, the backlog will decline:

Citizenship Week is an opportunity for Canadians across the country and around the world to show pride in our history, culture and achievements.

Today, the Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, attended a virtual citizenship ceremony, wrapping up another successful Citizenship Week. The ceremony, hosted in partnership with the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, saw 25 new Canadians invited to take their Oath of Citizenship.

During the ceremony, the Minister spoke about the significance of citizenship, the rights and freedoms it affords, and the important responsibilities that come with it. He also acknowledged the individuals and families waiting to become citizens, and that IRCC is taking action so they can achieve this dream as soon as possible.

IRCC is working hard to process a large volume of citizenship applications, and has been taking steps to improve its operations. As a result, Canada exceeded its citizenship goals for 2021-2022, with over 217,000 new Canadian citizens, and is planning to welcome even more in 2022-2023.

IRCC has also been modernizing and increasing its services for people who want to become Canadians. On November 26, 2020, we launched a new platform that made Canada one of the first countries in the world to offer citizenship testing online. IRCC also adapted quickly to COVID-19 restrictions by introducing virtual ceremonies in April 2020. Thanks to these measures, we are now inviting more people to tests and ceremonies than we were able to do before the pandemic.

Becoming a Canadian citizen is a significant milestone in a newcomer’s immigration journey, and we will continue our efforts so that as many as possible can reach this goal. Supported by additional funding from the 2021 Economic and Fiscal Update, IRCC will continue its efforts to reduce application inventories accumulated during the pandemic.

Quote

“I am proud to be Canadian, and it is always a great honour to participate in welcoming new members to our Canadian family. This week has been a chance to reflect on everything that being Canadian means—the freedom for individuals to live as their authentic selves, the connections to our beautiful landscapes and the chance for everyone to reach their full potential no matter their background. I am thankful every day to be Canadian, and I encourage everyone to reflect on what being Canadian means to them.”

– The Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

 Quick facts

  • The citizenship ceremony is the final step to becoming a Canadian citizen. During the ceremony, participants accept the rights and responsibilities of citizenship by taking the Oath of Citizenship, which is administered by a citizenship judge.
  • Canada’s first citizenship ceremony was held 75 years ago, on January 3, 1947, at the Supreme Court of Canada.
  • In June 2021, the Oath of Citizenship changed to recognize the inherent and treaty rights of Indigenous peoples.
  • Canada has one of the highest naturalization rates in the world, with about 85% of newcomers becoming citizens.
  • The Citizenship Application Tracker was launched in May 2021 to help clients stay up to date on the status and any required next steps for their citizenship applications.
  • IRCC has also launched online application processes for some clients looking to apply for a grant of citizenship, get proof of citizenship or search citizenship records.
  • From the launch of IRCC’s new online testing platform on November 26, 2020 to April 30, 2022, almost 310,000 people have taken citizenship tests, and IRCC is able to invite about 5,000 applicants per week to complete the test.
  • Between April 1, 2020 and April 30, 2022, more than 300,000 people took the Oath of Citizenship in almost 14,000 ceremonies using a virtual platform. The Department is inviting on average about 3,000 applicants per week to participate in citizenship ceremonies.