‘Earth-shattering’: Why applicants to Canada’s special, one-time immigration program fear a computer glitch may have dashed their dreams

Not good if correct:

Parthkumar Patel graduated from a two-year program in computer science from the University of Regina in January but was having a tough time finding a job in his field in Canada.

For months, the international graduate from India worked jobs in restaurants before he was hired by a car-rental company as a customer-service representative. With no end to the pandemic in sight, he says, he wondered if he’d ever land a job that would qualify him for permanent residence here.

Then in April, the federal government announced it would roll out a one-time pathway for temporary residents such as international graduates and essential migrant workers already in Canada to become permanent residents, in part to recognize their contributions to Canada during the pandemic.

Like other enthused applicants, Patel scrambled to compile all the documentation he needed for the online application process. He drove eight hours from Regina to Edmonton to sit for an English language test, because it was the closest centre with an available spot.

On May 6, before the application process opened at noon, he sat with two other friends also applying to the program so they could do it together and make sure there were no mistakes and that they had all the i’s dotted and crossed all the t’s for the application. At 12:22 p.m., he completed his application.

Patel says he was shocked last month when he received a refusal of his application, for failing to submit his French language test result. The problem? He said he’d applied to the English international graduate stream — not the French one. He already submitted his English test result and shouldn’t have needed a French test result.

He said he’s certain he selected the right stream from the drop-down menu in the intake portal.

“I’m 100 per cent sure,” said the 21-year-old. “It’s my best chance to become a permanent resident in Canada. This was so important to me that I double-, triple-checked everything before I submitted my file to make sure I got everything right.”

The so-called TR-to-PR pathway has six streams, three each for English-speaking and French-speaking applicants, under international graduates, health and non-health essential worker categories. All three English-speaking streams had caps and were removed from the portal once they were filled.

As the applications are being processing, a growing number of applicants for the English-speaking streams are claiming that a glitch in the immigration application portal has wrongfully bumped them into the French streams. While some have already received refusal letters, others are just starting to spot the problem in their application record.

Toronto immigration lawyer Mario Bellissimo has filed a challenge against the immigration department for refusing another applicant’s case, claiming that his client was misplaced and processed in the wrong stream.

“We have also reached out to the Department of Justice early on, because we want to make sure that it’s not a client error and we want to know what’s happening, because the implications are huge,” said Bellissimo, who said he’s had several similar inquiries.

“Let’s assume there is a glitch. If, in fact, there’s no client error, then is there still a manual review? I really hope that when we drill down on these cases, it was a glitch that somehow can be remedied.”

The immigration department said applicants to the pathway are assessed against the requirements of the stream they selected in the drop-down menu.

“It is possible that the applicant selected the French-speaking stream because the general stream was already filled and the general stream was not present in the drop-down menu,” department spokesperson Jeffrey MacDonald said in an email.

But Patel insists that’s an impossible scenario in his case, as he was among the first to submit the application, a day before the English international graduate stream was filled.

He pointed out there is a precedent of a glitch in the pathway’s application portal. It had continued to accept new applications under the English international graduate stream even after all the 40,000 spots had been taken within 24 hours. That forced officials to issue a special public policy in late June to ensure the 7,300 additional applicants wouldn’t be penalized due to the system error.

“I am heartbroken by this unfair rejection of my application,” said Patel, who hopes officials will investigate and provide remedies to him and others.

Wenjing Xie, a former international student from China, has worked in customer service at a bank in Ottawa on a postgraduate work permit since she graduated with a degree in finance from the University of Ottawa in 2019.

The 25-year-old said she applied under the non-health essential worker stream on May 6 with three other friends with their immigration consultant watching every step on Zoom.

She submitted the complete application at 12:33 p.m. and received a refusal on Sept. 14 under the French non-health essential worker stream for failing the language requirement.

“I just cried. I was so depressed that I had to take a day off from work when I got the rejection letter,” said Xie, whose work permit expires in May 2022.

“I met all the requirements and I did everything on time. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any screen images and I don’t have proof. Who would have?”

Bellissimo said he hopes the actual uploading and the technology of the system can reveal the truth through his litigation, which is now before the court.

“If you haven’t kept your screenshots, you haven’t had the benefit of doing all of that. How are you going to prove your case? What’s actually kept by the department? We don’t know,” he explained.

“It just seems like there would have to be multiple breakdowns for this to occur. I’m having a difficult time understanding how you get to this point. That’s why we felt it was important to move forward with this (legal) challenge and see how it gets resolved.”

Nishith Vagjani, who came here from Nigeria and finished two postgraduate programs last December at Fanshawe College in London, Ont., applied to the English non-health essential worker stream on July 16 hours before the application closed.

He went to his immigration application account in early September after hearing from people on social media about applicants being processed in the wrong stream. To his surprise, his application was placed in the French non-health essential worker stream.

“That was an earth-shattering moment for me. I put in so much hard work into the process,” said the 26-year-old, who scrambled to collect all the documents required — including from India, where he received his undergraduate degree — to complete the application.

The only proof he said he has is the mandatory form, the IMM0130, that all applicants were required to put a check mark on the stream they selected, plus an acknowledgment of receipt of his application.

Vagjani said he contacted the immigration department to fix the problem but was told nothing could be done.

Immigration officials said anyone who has an issue with their applications under the pathway can contact them directly through their web form.

Source: ‘Earth-shattering’: Why applicants to Canada’s special, one-time immigration program fear a computer glitch may have dashed their dreams

Applicants to Canada’s special, one-time immigration program are being forced to navigate the system alone, critics charge

Will be an interesting and important test of IRCC’s modernization efforts. We will see whether the fears of immigration lawyers and consultants are overblown or whether IRCC can design pathways and processes that many can navigate on their own.

Not to be cynical, but simplification in any area or online tools (e.g., will and tax software) often prompt fears of lawyers, accountants and other professionals who benefit from complexity:

With Canada’s highly anticipated special immigration program set to open Thursday, experts say they’re worried about the potential for chaos.

Immigration lawyers briefed about the new program and its portal say they’ve been told applicants must create their own accounts, complete the online application and upload all required documents on their own — without professional legal help.

“There are different forms they need to fill out about family information, travel history, all the (previous) addresses, work history and study periods. They require all the forms and documentations upfront, just shy of the medical and police clearances,” said Toronto lawyer Barbara Jo Caruso.

“Everything needs to be labelled, uploaded and properly attached. If they are not done properly, they will be deemed incomplete and refused.”

The applications are being taken on a first-come, first-served basis. Even if an application is incomplete or an applicant is ineligible, once it’s logged into the portal, it’s counted toward the 90,000 cap under this new program. The system will stop accepting applications once that cap is reached.

Lawyers and consultants asked during the briefing if the portal would reopen if many applicants turned out to be ineligible, but they said immigration officials didn’t have an answer.

The one-time-only immigration pathway, announced in April, aims to grant permanent residence to 90,000 applicants comprising recent international graduates and temporary foreign workers with experience in health-care and essential occupations.

These already-in-Canada candidates have been prioritized to help the country meet its 410,000 annual immigration targets amid uncertainty given the ongoing COVID-19 border restrictions.

The new pathway has already created a buzz — and frenzy — among candidates who have found themselves scrambling to register for one of the two government-designated language tests required to prove language proficiency in their application. (Details about the application process have yet to be published.)

Authorized lawyers and consultants have previously had their own portals with the immigration department that they use to complete and submit applications on behalf of clients.

However, the new stand-alone portal for the new pathway only allows applicants to log in through their personal email and there’s no interface to link their account to their counsel.

“If your whole future depends on this whole process, you want to be fair, you want to be understanding, you want people to have experience in working in the government portal to assist you,” Caruso said.

“It’s tedious work. Government technology is not user-friendly at the best of times, let alone when you are under pressure. There’s a cap and you want to make sure you’re the first one in.”

Among the 90,000 spots of the new program, 20,000 will be dedicated for temporary foreign workers in health care; 30,000 for those in other selected essential occupations; and the remaining 40,000 for international students who graduated from a Canadian institution.

Many of the essential workers will likely have to take time off from work and spend hours to figure out the new pathway application process.

“They are the essential workers. They are the people driving trucks. They’re the people on the front line in the health-care system,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Ravi Jain.

“Many people will apply even if they don’t have their language test results. They are just going to ignore the instructions and hit the submit button. Every time you hit ‘submit,’ you take a spot.”

Last year, the federal government got rid of its first-come-first-serve system for Canadians to sponsor their parents and grandparents abroad as permanent residents after public outrage that the available spots were snapped up within minutes.

It prompted Ottawa to re-introduce a lottery system, in which interested sponsors are now required to first register to enter into the draw, then submit a full sponsorship application if they are selected after duplicate and incomplete forms are weeded out.

“The reality is there are always going to be people who are going to be harmed no matter what direction it goes. There’s a race to file. There are so many things that could go wrong. But then what are the alternatives?” said Mark Holthe, chair of the Canadian Bar Association immigration law section.

“There’s a lot of little nuances with the application that people won’t understand. I envision that we could have up to 20 per cent or even 30 per cent of spoiled applications that people are ineligible who are using up the capped spots.”

Holthe, who started an online course in April to help applicants manoeuvre the basics of the immigration portal, expects the application package for the new pathway to be comparable to the existing one for the immigration of skilled workers.

Anyone interested in applying should start compiling and scanning documentations such as copies of their passports, work permits, reference letters and employment records as these are likely what would be required in the application, he suggested.

There is still time for the immigration department to get the process “right,” says Kareem El-Assal, managing editor of immigration news site CIC News and policy director at CanadaVisa.com.

“Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada deserves credit for trying to accommodate more essential workers and graduates during this crisis,” he said. “But they need to be careful about dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s before they launch the (pathway) streams.”

Alexander Cohen, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino’s press secretary, said his office is aware of the concerns raised regarding the access to the new portal.

“We remain in close contact with several key stakeholders and are looking into this,” Cohen told the Star.

Source: Applicants to Canada’s special, one-time immigration program are being forced to navigate the system alone, critics charge