Canada faces a staggering immigration backlog. With the border reopening and applicants anxious to get here, how should Ottawa prioritize?

Good overview of the backlog and related issues that IRCC will have to address:

Thanks to COVID-19, Linda Shaji and Canada have had what you might call a bad romance.

After a lengthy vetting process, the 29-year-old from India was approved for permanent residence here on March 20, 2020 — two days after this country’s border was closed.

Now, 16 months later, her Canadian immigration visa has expired and Shaji is still home at her parents’ house, waiting to be admitted into this country.

The worst part is, after all this time, she’s still in the dark — met with automated email responses and told by Canada on its immigration website: “To wait for us to tell you what happens next. You don’t need to contact us again.”

“Ghosting us when we ask questions. Denying anything is wrong. Saying we are too needy when we question the long silence,” Shaji paused, “if this is a relationship, these are some serious red flags.”

The pandemic has wrecked havoc on the entire immigration system, with backlogs for every program — from family reunification to different economic immigration streams — that are only growing.

Now, as the border begins to reopen, the federal government is faced with long lines of disgruntled applicants, all looking to be the first to come in and start new lives in this country, while the bureaucracy struggles to digitalize an outdated case management and processing system.

Since March 18, 2020, when Canada closed its border in the face of the emerging pandemic, the immigration system has ground to a halt. The federal immigration department found itself scrambling to secure laptops for stay-at-home staff and to transition its processing online.

As of July 6, the backlog of permanent residence applications had skyrocketed by 70 per cent to 375,137 since February 2020, with the number of applications for temporary residence currently sitting at 702,660 cases.

The backlog of citizenship applications has also ballooned: it’s reached 369,677 people from 208,069 over the same period. These numbers do not include the applications that have been received at the mailroom of immigration offices but which have yet to be entered into the system.

Amid border lockdowns here and around the world, Canadian officials prioritized foreign nationals whose travels were deemed essential, such as migrant farm workers and health workers. They also responded to the plight of international students, who had paid a fortune to study in Canada and were in immigration limbo.

Wanting to keep the country’s immigration pipeline flowing, but not knowing how long travel restrictions would be in place, officials turned to the huge pool of migrant workers already in Canada to offer some of them permanent residency.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino has, meanwhile, been criticized by applicants left, right and centre who have had their lives, careers and dreams put on hold, some facing prolonged separation from spouses and parents or grandparents who are being kept out of the country.

“The growth of the inventory or what is described as backlogs is very much a function of the pandemic. There (was), quite literally, in the case of new permanent residents, no place for them to come to as a result of the travel restrictions,” Mendicino said.

“We hear you. We see you. Each and every one of your cases matters to me and to our department and to our government.”

While Mendicino has boasted about the quick adaptation of the immigration system to the pandemic, often citing the virtual citizenship test and oath-taking ceremony as examples, he has yet to make public a detailed plan or priorities for when the border reopens.

Recently, Canada’s reopening effort reached a new milestone, with the federal government set to welcome fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and green card holders at the land border for non-essential travel beginning on Aug. 9 without having to quarantine, and from other countries beginning Sept. 7.

What Mendicino needs to do immediately, experts and advocates say, is bring in the migrants who have already been vetted and approved for permanent residence but kept outside of Canada.

“All of the backlogs have now been exacerbated. The government has to provide some clear pathways and criteria for prioritization,” said independent Sen. Ratna Omidvar, a strong voice on migration, diversity and inclusion in the Senate.

“It should do everything it can to process those people who’ve already been processed. They should be a priority. They’ve put their lives on hold because we’ve selected them. They need to come to Canada. They need to put roots down.”

Shaji quit her job at an artificial intelligence development firm last July, when she got her visa after the visa office in India reopened. But Canada’s door was closed to immigrants even if they had valid visas because it was deemed non-essential travel.

“There is still no set timeline for anyone. It means further agony of waiting,” said Shaji, who has yet to hear from the federal government on what she needs to do regarding her expired documents in order to get here.

“Immigration surely matters to Canada, but do immigrants matter?”

In late June, Ottawa started opening the border to immigrants who have valid permanent residence visas to enter Canada, but the ones with expired documents were told more information would be forthcoming and not to contact officials.

For travellers like Shaji from India, Canada’s top immigrant-source country, getting here is another logistical challenge.

Ottawa has just extended its ban on all flights from India to Aug. 21, meaning even Canadian citizens can’t travel back. The ban was introduced in April due to the unruly surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the country.

The pandemic has exposed many shortcomings of the immigration process, said MP Jenny Kwan, the NDP’s immigration critic, and officials must cut unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy in these unprecedented times.

One of the things they could do, she said, is to automatically renew immigration applicants’ expired documents.

Requiring people to scramble to update outdated documents during a pandemic may buy Ottawa time, she noted, but it won’t solve the crisis and is going to further agonize immigration applicants.

“To this day, it is a mystery to me why the government has insisted on contacting each individual with an expired or expiring permanent resident visa to see if they still wanted to come to Canada, instead of just automatically renewing it,” Kwan said.

“Why did they do that? Why did they spend all those resources doing that instead of putting it into processing applications? They need to adopt an approach that’s not so rigid.”

Taraneh Gojgini sponsored her parents, Kaykavoos and Sima Gojgini, both American citizens, to join her in Vancouver from Long Island, N.Y., in 2018. The couple were issued their confirmation of permanent residence in September 2019 and had booked a flight to move here in April 2020. Due to COVID-19, the border was closed and their flight cancelled.

They didn’t hear anything from immigration officials for 10 months until this February, when they were asked if they were still interested in moving to Canada. The couple confirmed their desire to come here but wanted to delay the trip until the summer after most Canadians were expected to have been vaccinated.

Last April, after their visas expired, they were asked again if they were ready to come and told to send in their passports and photos for a new visa. In June, another email came asking them a third time if they planned to come to Canada. This time, they were also told to do a new medical exam.

“My parents are past the point of worry. They are so upset and anxious that there is no calming down their concern at this point,” said Gojgini, who moved to Vancouver in 2011 after marrying her husband, Behzad Pourkarimi. “They have become disillusioned with Canada.”

Kwan said reuniting families, whether spouses or parents, should be a priority for the immigration department, even if it means letting applicants abroad come here first on temporary visas and have their permanent residence applications processed within Canada so families won’t be kept apart even longer.

Suhani Chandrashekar, an engineer, came to Canada from India on a work permit in 2018 and went back to marry Naveen Nagarajappa, a close family friend, in December 2019. She returned to Canada and entered her profile into the skilled immigration pool for permanent residence.

In March 2020, just before COVID was declared a global pandemic, she received an invitation to submit her application under the Canadian Experience Class. Her case has since been stalled.

“Staying away from each other for so long is putting unnecessary strain on our marriage. We are also planning to start a family. But the uncertainty is not helping our cause here,” said the 29-year-old Toronto woman, who also has a pending application to have her husband join her here on a temporary work permit.

“Even after more than a year and a half of marriage, we are not able to see each other.”

Vancouver immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens said many of the permanent residence applications in the backlogs are actually near “finalization,” just pending approvals and admission.

Application backlogs in economic immigration, such as Canadian Experience Class or federal skilled workers, should be quick to clear, he contends, because they are processed online based on points allotted to applicants’ age, education, language test result and related work experience — and only require straightforward document reviews.

The paper-based family class applications, however, will be a problem because these are harder to process remotely and involve more discretionary decision-making by individual officers, and will take longer to finalize.

“The government has shown that where they’re willing to allocate resources and put the effort toward processing files, they can achieve it,” Meurrens said. “If they want, they can clear out this backlog easily.”

To him, the biggest question for Ottawa is whether it has the will to greatly exceed the annual immigration targets that they’d set — 401,000 in 2021; 411,000 in 2022; and 421,000 in 2023 — while simultaneously clearing backlogs and processing new applications that keep coming in.

“Are they prepared to explain to Canadians why immigration levels are going to go up because we’re processing this backlog while maintaining existing plans?” Meurrens asked. “If they don’t do that, they will have more application backlog delays.”

One of the blessings of the pandemic, he said, is that it gave Ottawa the opportunity to transition a large number of migrants on temporary status in Canada, such as precarious low-skilled workers who otherwise wouldn’t qualify for immigration, to become permanent residents.

“COVID has reduced that gap between the number of people who work here and the number of people who can immigrate,” said Meurrens. “Otherwise, we risk developing this permanent foreign worker class in Canada.”

Earlier this year, Ottawa introduced a one-time special program to grant permanent residence to 90,000 international graduates and essential migrant workers already in Canada in part to meet its 2021 immigration targets and in part to recognize migrant workers’ contributions to Canada during the pandemic.

Sen. Omidvar said the pandemic has shown Canadians that our economy not only needs highly educated STEM scientists and engineers but also immigrants who deliver essential services such as in agriculture and health care during the crisis.

A 21st-century immigration system needs to recognize those “essential skills” in the labour market that go beyond minimum language requirements and how many university degrees an immigration applicant has, she said.

“Let’s get away from this dichotomy and this unfortunate language of low skills and high skills. It doesn’t suit us anymore in this new era,” Omidvar said. “We need to view the labour market a little bit more broadly than we have done in the past. Coming out of this crisis, that’s the new horizon we need to grasp.”

For front-line immigration officers, many of whom are still working from home, having the proper digitizing infrastructure is key post-COVID-19, said Crystal Warner, national executive vice-president of the 27,000-member Canada Employment and Immigration Union.

During the pandemic, immigration staff were not equipped to work from home and some had to take turns going into the office, which only allowed a 20 per cent capacity at one point. Programs were de-prioritized and then reprioritized, and her members — 78 per cent women — weren’t given proper training and support, she said.

“There is a lack of a centralized digitization process. Staff are scanning mailed applications on desktop scanners at their desks in the office. It’s not an effective strategy. Progress is being made, but it is slow,” she said.

Warner said some of the systems are still not upgraded appropriately and crash all the time. Just recently, after a meeting where staff were told that significant investments were being made into the bandwidth and server space, the whole system crashed for the day, nationwide.

“This is ongoing,” she said. “On the one hand, they are digitizing like crazy and on the other hand, the hardware and system upgrades are not keeping pace.”

It’s an issue the federal government is hoping to address with an $800-million investment to modernize the immigration system in its 2021 budget, said the immigration minister.

“That’s the really exciting work that lies ahead of us, which is going to, I think, catapult us into an entirely transformed immigration system,” Mendicino said. “Our system needs to be transformed, needs to be modernized, so that it can accommodate the great demands that are placed on it.”

While the current immigration case management system certainly needs an upgrade, critics said Mendicino must first figure out the vaccination requirement for travellers — both permanent and temporary residents — who don’t meet current border exemptions.

Whether to let someone into the country should be based on vaccination status rather than just about which immigrant group Ottawa wants to prioritize, said Ravi Jain, past president of the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration division.

“If people are fully vaccinated, I think we’ve got to start opening up,” he said, adding that processing immigration applications abroad depends very much on how well other countries manage the pandemic and their lockdown conditions, which hinders Ottawa’s priorities.

Ottawa, Jain noted, needs to figure out a vaccine passport that’s easy to enforce and can complement ArriveCan, the government app for travellers to provide travel info before and after entry to Canada, as well as which vaccines should be recognized based on science.

For fairness, he said, officials do need to allow prospective immigrants who have been waiting the longest to come first and start a new life here, as well as fast-tracking investors and businesspeople who can create employment in Canada for its economic recovery.

“I don’t want to say that you prioritize this and that particular group, and everyone else is waiting,” said Jain.

“There’s nothing preventing the government from moving forward on all fronts and on all these issues. What’s been preventing them, frankly, has been the border. That’s been the real sticking point.”

For overseas immigration applicant Maninderjit Singh, it’s simply heartbreaking to see those applying for permanent residence from abroad being shut out from the process.

The lawyer from Punjab, India, entered the federal skilled worker pool in January with 467 points, but the government has not had one single draw for the program.

And time is running out because a candidate loses points with increased age, five points per year as the system targets those in prime working age. Singh’s score has already come down by five points to 462 after he turned 32 recently.

“Thousands of federal skilled worker applicants are getting prejudiced with each passing day. Our life is now at a stand still,” he said. “With reduced score and thousands of new applications adding into the pool, the chances are getting bleak for me to get invited to Canada.”

Source: Canada faces a staggering immigration backlog. With the border reopening and applicants anxious to get here, how should Ottawa prioritize?

Canada trumpeted its special, one-time immigration program for international grads and essential workers. But did it work in the end?

Some lessons here more broadly, both with respect to policy and service delivery:

Has Ottawa’s latest immigration pathway for international graduates and essential migrant workers been a success or a missed opportunity?

After much fanfare in April to announce the first-come, first-served program to grant permanent residence to temporary migrants in Canada, officials released details about the process and requirements less than 24 hours before applications opened a month ago on May 6.

The cap of 40,000 applications for international graduates here on postgraduate work permits was filled within a day, while intake for the two migrant worker streams in health and non-health sectors — with a cap of 50,000 applications — has been slow.

As of Friday, only 1,700 applications had been received under the stream for health workers out of a quota of 20,000, and just 11,900 of the 30,000 vacancies for those in non-health related jobs were filled.

That shortfall has prompted some critics to question whether the special pathway only favours those with Canadian education credentials and in higher-skilled jobs, but excludes the essential workers who don’t meet the strict language and job criteria and who really need the help.

“It’s a missed opportunity to provide a pathway to permanent residence for other ‘low-skilled’ workers who don’t qualify. … They had an opportunity to finally give all low-skilled foreign nationals pathway for permanent residence that they’d been talking about for years,” says Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens.

“There are so many people here in low-skilled jobs for such a long time. It’s not clear to me why they didn’t just expand it to all low-skilled workers who are here but don’t have an (eligible) immigration program.”

International graduates who lost their jobs during the pandemic and had their postgraduate work permits expire are already eligible to renew their permits for up to 18 months due to the pandemic, said Meurrens.

“The government sold the pathway as a COVID program. They could’ve sold it that ‘these people have been working during the pandemic and we’re going to let them stay permanently,’” said Meurrens. “They could have the political will to do that. I don’t think any opposition party would attack the government for it.”

Excitement — followed by disappointment, for some

In April, Ottawa’s announcement of the new pathway made for a good news story and the pathway was well received. It came as Canada was struggling during the peak of the third wave of COVID-19 pandemic, with daily new infections averaging more than 8,500 cases.

“This new pathway to permanent residence recognizes Canada’s need for educated and experienced workers as we work toward our economic recovery,” the immigration department said in a news release.

“It also acknowledges the extraordinary service of so many essential workers during the pandemic, many of whom are newcomers to our country and have played critical roles as we fight COVID-19.”

The pathway created a frenzy among many temporary migrants with precarious status in Canada, who were faced with the uncertainty over the impact and disruption of the pandemic toward their pursuit for permanent residence here.

Jose, a failed refugee claimant from Mexico with diabetes, has braved the exposure to COVID-19 while working in a restaurant and house cleaning through the pandemic. He said he was excited when he first heard about the program, but that excitement quickly turned to disappointment when he learned the pathway wasn’t opened to all essential workers.

“I felt sad when I found out more about the new program. We have been working to support Canadians who are staying at home during the pandemic,” said Jose, who asked his last name be withheld because he has been undocumented in Canada since his asylum claim based on sexual orientation was refused in 2009.

“Many of us have no other options to stay. We have worked hard during the pandemic and we are the ones who need a special program for permanent residence,” added the 41-year-old Montreal man.

The new pathway stipulates that all applicants must be legally employed with valid work permits in Canada at the time of their application and when they are granted permanent residence. Some applicants may end up being disqualified if they fail to keep their jobs or work permit while waiting out the process.

There are also minimum English proficiency requirements based on language test results. The migrant worker streams are limited to 40 health-care occupations and 95 other essential jobs across a range of fields, such as caregiving and food production and distribution.

Communication around program falls under criticism

Ottawa lawyer Betsy Kane said immigration officials did a poor job in communicating about the specifics of the program as they rushed to roll it out.

“The execution was very poor because people didn’t even know what the requirements were. People had to prepare in real time as they were changing what actually had to be submitted. Their guide came out the day before the application was due to open,” she pointed out.

“For somebody who is unable to appreciate what the requirements are, one of the challenges is using a portal. Expecting all documents to be scanned in a beautiful fashion and uploaded in a timely basis under the gun of a quota for low-skilled workers is not realistic.”

Although the new government portal did not crash as many observers expected it to, the immigration department’s system was so overwhelmed by the number of applicants trying to pay the $1,050 application fee that it stopped working for hours on May 6.

The pathway for international graduates would have been a godsend for Sunshine Pardinan, who was laid off as a technical assistant at a dental office and unemployed for seven months at the onset of the pandemic.

The 41-year-old Filipina missed the cap for that stream because she was unable to secure the birth certificates of her four children back home as required in the application.

Fortunately, she still qualified for the nonhealth essential worker stream.

“I was blessed that I had another chance to apply or my family’s immigration dream would be crushed,” said Pardinan, who has a degree in education from Cebu and graduated from Centennial College’s one-year business foundation program in April 2020.

“I was lucky that my former employer called me back in October so I have a job and can still qualify as an essential worker. We all have been helping the economy and I hope the government can give all temporary residents a chance.”

Kane, the lawyer, said she was not surprised the cap for the international graduate stream was filled quickly, as there’s a huge demand to keep attracting international students here and the 40,000 quota accounts for less than 10 per cent of the international student population already here.

While health workers are in huge demand, many of those are tied up helping to fight the pandemic and are not in a rush to apply because they are likely going to qualify or may have already applied through a regular immigration program.

‘A mad rush’

Daniel Lantin, who just completed a two-year program in business marketing from Centennial College this spring, was already preparing to apply for permanent residence under the skilled immigration class before Ottawa announced the new pathway.

With his work experience in social media marketing for a software company, the 30-year-old from the Philippines was able to obtain all the documentation he needed, such as proof of completing his school program and police clearances. He even managed to register and take the mandatory English test before application opened.

“This pathway is a bonus. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that they’re taking in international students who basically just graduated and have full-time work,” said Lantin, who already had an undergraduate degree and worked in marketing in the Philippines.

“We weren’t sure whether this was going to open up again. This is an opportunity that’s not given to everyone. It’s a blessing.”

However, Lantin couldn’t get his application photos professionally done because studios were closed. Instead, he included in his file a note to explain why he didn’t have a photo and hopes immigration officials will accept the reasoning.

His lawyer, Lou Janssen Dangzalan, said people were bound to miss documents and make mistakes in their submissions as they were rushed to complete applications online, sometimes without even looking at their eligibility.

“Based out of my consultation that I’ve had, a lot of people are saying that ‘I’m going to take my chances and maybe they will adjust the policy.’ They were planning to apply anyway,” said Dangzalan, who was approached by a couple of dozen applicants for help and only 14 had valid language test results.

“The 40,000 international graduates that they’ve got. They’re not going to get all of that,” he added. “It’s such a mad rush and mistakes will be made.”

‘There will be opportunities above and beyond this pathway’

Experts said it all comes down to how forgiving and flexible immigration officials are in handling that and if they would just refuse those applications outright.

During a parliamentary immigration committee meeting, officials appeared to have moved the goalpost of the new pathway when they were asked what they would do if many ended up not being qualified.

“One single application can allow two or three people (family members) to ultimately come to Canada. We can therefore hit the target of 90,000,” said Daniel Mills, assistant deputy immigration minister in operations. “It does not necessarily depend on the number of applications, but the number of people involved.”

And for those who don’t meet this program’s criteria, Marian Campbell Jarvis, assistant deputy immigration minister in policy, said, other “pathways still exist alongside this special temporary public policy that was put in place, so there will be opportunities above and beyond this pathway.”

Jarvis expects the uptake for the essential worker streams will ultimately pick up as in the case in most new immigration programs.

In an interview Friday, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino praised the new pathway as the “broadest and most inclusive” pathway to permanent residence for essential workers in the history of the immigration system.

He said the details of the program were clearly communicated before it opened to applications and that the feedback to the pathway has been overwhelmingly positive.

“By publishing the guideline before the program even opened, we began to inform, educate and give access to clear transparent guidance, so that as people began to prepare to submit, they have the benefit of clear instructions,” Mendicino told the Star.

“The doors are still open to this program. There are spaces. There is still time.”

Mendicino also did not rule out the possibility of another, similar pathway as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc to global migration.

“We are going to make the greatest success out of this program. Once this program has concluded and we have a really clear understanding of how it has landed, we’ll be in a better position to decide. There may be other similar pathways that we should create,” he said.

A system that needs ‘overhaul’

Karen Cocq of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change said the problem with the new pathway is that it was designed for the people who don’t need a special program to get permanent residence.

It’s evident, she said, the program privileged those who were already the most well placed to access permanent residency with the money to pay for lawyers and fees, or may already be preparing their applications with documentations handy.

“The immigration minister trotted out these highly qualified hardworking workers in health care as examples of front-line heroes the program was built to thank. But the vast majority of people the minister called out don’t need this program,” said Cocq.

“And we know so many people who work in health care in other job classifications who do need access to permanent residency simply can’t get it through the program because so many of them are working undocumented.”

She said these are just symptoms of the fundamental tenet of Canada’s current approach to immigration that’s based on transitioning temporary residents such as international students and migrant workers to become permanent residents.

“Until the immigration system stops producing temporariness, we will continue to require partial, piecemeal and inadequate solutions. This is a historic opportunity that the government has where there’s public awareness in how the system puts people in vulnerable positions,” Cocq explained.

“I think there’s public support and public appetite to see fundamental change coming out of the pandemic to see the reorganizing of the economy and of the immigration system. The government is missing an opportunity to do the overhaul of the system that’s required.”

Source: Canada trumpeted its special, one-time immigration program for international grads and essential workers. But did it work in the end?

Make spousal sponsorships work to reunite families: Meurrens

Valid observation that the returning of incomplete applications, while valid from an administrative streamlining perspective, has the political advantage of reducing reported processing times.

Meurrens makes a useful suggestion that follow-up questions could be sent to applicants at the same time as medical forms, which are sent after applications. However, this would likely require a greater degree of process coordination that may be challenging to implement:

On February 14, 2018, Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), announced that the processing time for spousal sponsorship applications had been reduced from 26 months to 12 months in 80 percent of cases. The Minister attributed the reduction to a “Family Class Tiger Team” that had redesigned application packages and introduced workflow efficiencies.

What the Minister didn’t mention was that IRCC achieved its reduction in processing at least in part because it has established an unbelievably strict triage system for marriage-based immigration applications. As reported in several media outlets at the end of January 2018, this intake-management system has in many instances left Canadian families in limbo, caused people who were legally in Canada to lose their status and impeded the ability of the foreign-national spouses of Canadian citizens to work.

On the same day that the Minister made his announcement, IRCC issued an Operational Bulletin stating that effective March 15, 2018, IRCC would return as incomplete applications that do not include a detailed form listing personal and address history, and police certificates from countries where applicants have lived. These forms and police certificates were previously required but not subject to the triage system.

This triage system makes it difficult to accurately compare application processing times and, more importantly, it creates unnecessary and unwarranted hardship for Canadians seeking to reunite with their families.

The drive for faster processing times 

It is true that under the former Conservative government, processing times for spousal and common-law sponsorship applications were generally slower than they currently are. These slower processing times were in large part due to lower quotas that the Conservatives had for family reunification. Indeed, the Liberals have increased Canada’s target for spousal sponsorship applications by 50 percent.

The slower processing times under the Conservatives also existed because the government did not apply to family reunification programs the rigid application-completeness system it had implemented in economic immigration programs, whereby the department would return as incomplete any applications that contained a technical deficiency.

Because the Conservatives refrained from introducing the triage system into family reunification programs, if a Canadian seeking to sponsor a spouse missed a signature or forgot to include a document, IRCC would send a letter requesting the missing document. While this approach often delayed processing times by months, foreign spouses who were already in Canada were able to continue living here with status and to work if they had a work permit. Ironically, with its relentless drive to boast of reduced processing times, the Liberal government has abandoned the more compassionate approach of the Conservatives.

On December 16, 2016, John McCallum, then the minister of citizenship and immigration, decreed that effective January 31, 2017, Canada’s immigration department would return as incomplete any spousal or common-law sponsorship applications that were missing required signatures or documents. That this step was taken to reduce processing times has been confirmed in internal IRCC documents obtained through an Access to Information Act request. A fact sheet that the Family Class Tiger Team provided to manager-level staff confirms that previously a majority of spousal sponsorship applications were missing documents, which slowed down processing, and that the government wanted to reduce processing times.

Problems with the triage system

The current rigid triage system distorts a fair comparison of processing times. Suppose an individual applies to sponsor a spouse to immigrate to Canada and forgets to include in one of the forms the city where a non-accompanying brother was born. Previously, processing might have been delayed by two to three months while IRCC contacted the family, informed them of the mistake and requested they provide the information. Now, IRCC would instead return the application one to two months after it is submitted, and the family would have to resubmit. If some supporting documents have expired, they may have to reobtain them, and the process can easily take several months. Under the previous system, this delay would have added two to three months to the processing time. Under the Liberals’ triage system, technically there is no delay because processing doesn’t start until the application is resubmitted. So while the government can boast of reduced processing times, applicants are frequently worse off, and the time that it takes IRCC to approve their immigration applications is lengthened.

More importantly, an application being returned for incompleteness has implications beyond the annoyance of having to resubmit. Since January 31, 2017, foreign spouses already working in Canada have frequently lost the ability to work because their immigration application was returned, and they’ve found themselves now to be in Canada “illegally,” because their valid status hinged on their immigration application being in processing. Depending on the province, access to health care for a spouse could be delayed or jeopardized. In British Columbia, for example, the foreign-national visitor spouse of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident only becomes eligible to access that province’s public health system three months after IRCC accepts their application into processing. Every time IRCC returns an application for incompleteness, it delays those people’s access to health care.

Some Canadians may wonder why sympathy should be shown to people who submit incomplete applications. But the ability to be reunited on a permanent basis with a spouse should not depend on a person’s sophistication when it comes to completing paperwork — unless, of course, the government wants to push families into the hands of immigration lawyers and consultants.

Furthermore, an application can be incomplete for many reasons beyond simply missing forms and documents. The reasons that IRCC can return applications include using outdated versions of the forms (even though the old forms are often still available on the IRCC website), incorrectly stating which programs are being applied to even if the supporting documentation makes it obvious, an insufficient written explanation for why an individual cannot provide a supporting document at the time of submission (like a divorce certificate or police certificate that is in processing), photo specifications that are not met and errors in completing the forms.

An alternative approach

Given that processing times are easily measured, it is understandable that the government wants to reduce them. Indeed, it is hard to go a few days without reading a media storyabout a family upset with how long their immigration application is taking. Perhaps in exchange for immigration stakeholders not complaining to the media every time processing times increase, Canada’s immigration department could stop applying such a strict approach to accepting an application into processing. Can we not all agree to this?

A solution to longer processing times is readily apparent. IRCC does not currently let people complete their immigration medical exams until after several months into processing. Given that IRCC sends these requests for medical exams after processing has already started, it seems reasonable that a request for any missing information could be sent at the same time. Such an approach might cause a small increase in processing times, but it will ultimately benefit Canadians seeking to sponsor their spouses and common-law partners.

Source: Make spousal sponsorships work to reunite families

Immigration Department makes major headway on spousal sponsorship backlog | Toronto Star

Cute timing but the reduction in backlogs welcome:

Immigration Canada has worked hard to play Cupid in the past year by reuniting Canadians with their significant others abroad.

To celebrate Valentine’s Day, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen hosted a news conference at a Mississauga dessert shop to update his department’s dramatic reduction of the spousal sponsorship backlog.

According to Hussen, the number of spousal immigration applications in the queue has dropped to 15,000 from 74,900 a year ago, and the average processing time has also been sharply reduced to 12 months from 26 months.

“The Government of Canada is committed to family reunification. We understand how important it is to reunite couples. It also makes for a stronger Canada,” said Hussen.

“Canadians who marry someone from abroad shouldn’t have to wait for years to have them immigrate or be left with uncertainty in terms of their ability to stay.”

The minister attributed the success to a focused working group, dubbed the “Family Class Tiger Team,” that was created in spring 2016 to develop innovative mechanisms and redesign application kits and workflow to reduce processing times.

The special team reviewed spouse and partner related forms, guides, websites, tools and processes in order to improve the client experience and achieve faster processing times for most applicants. The team wrapped up in December 2016.

Since then, the Immigration Department’s spousal application package has been revised. At the time Hussen’s predecessor, John McCallum, announced the government intended to reduce the backlog of spousal sponsorship cases by 80 per cent and shorten processing times to 12 months.

Changes to the application kit were made following the announcement, condensing the previous 14 checklists down to four new ones.

On Wednesday, the department said the process will be streamlined further next month.

Starting on March 15, officials said spousal applicants will be asked to submit their background form and police certificates as part of their initial paper application package, instead of later in the application process to help move the process “quickly and efficiently and avoid unnecessary delays.”

The government’s spousal backlog reduction has surprised many, including veteran immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman.

“In my experience, there has been some reduction but it has not been as noticeable as the numbers suggest,” he told the Star. “I do not doubt the numbers but simply note that there are still cases that are taking a long time and it depends a lot on the offices.”

Spousal applications from countries such as Haiti, Mexico, Pakistan, Qatar and Sri Lanka still face wait times ranging from 14 to 19 months, above the 12-month global average, according to the Immigration Department website.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens said one important reason the backlog was reduced was the increased annual quota for sponsored spouses and children coming into the country, allowing more applications to be processed.

Ottawa increased its annual target for spousal reunification by one-third to 64,000 last year from 48,000 in 2014. The quota is even higher for this year and through 2020, at 70,000 a year.

“The Liberals increased targets, which would increase the number of applications that they process in a year, meaning faster processing,” Meurrens noted.

Waldman pointed out that the government’s time frames for processing do not take into account the delays associated with applications that are returned because they are deemed incomplete.

“If my clients sends in a sponsorship and some officer wrongly decides it is incomplete and sends it back, this adds three or more months to the processing but is not included (in the backlog),” he said. “We have had lots of files wrongfully returned and this has caused a lot of hardship to our clients.”

via Immigration Department makes major headway on spousal sponsorship backlog | Toronto Star

Addressing concerns about marriage fraud: Meurrens

Good and balanced assessment by Meurrens:

As soon as conditional permanent residency was implemented, it was clear that there were problems with the law, many of which were clearly unintended consequences. By far the most severe shortcoming of conditional permanent residency was that many people did not know about the abuse exception to the two-year cohabitation condition and, sadly, stayed in abusive situations to avoid deportation.

The second issue with the abuse exception was that some recent immigrants would make false allegations of abuse in order not to lose their status. In some cases the Canadian sponsors felt so terrible about ending a marriage or common-law relationship with a recent immigrant, knowing that this outcome would lead to the possible deportation of their partner, that they were even willing to participate in the fabrication. During one memorable consultation, a Canadian sponsor who wanted to amicably end his common-law relationship but did not want his partner to face removal from Canada went so far as to ask me how hard he would have to hit her in order for her to qualify for the abuse exception to conditional permanent residency. Frankly, I don’t think the Conservatives realized how far some people would go to stay in Canada, and how difficult it would be for immigration officials to adjudicate whether there was abuse.

Finally, the problem with conditional permanent residency that impacted the largest number of people was that it applied to those who were already inside Canada and who could have obtained permanent residency through economic immigration programs, but instead chose Canada’s family reunification stream because of faster processing times and the ability to work on open-ended work permits during processing.

For example, an international graduate who had been living here with her girlfriend for one year and working for a Canadian employer might have qualified under both the economic and the family reunification programs. From 2012 to 2015, however, the Conservatives frequently imposed application caps on certain economic immigration programs, and in some cases they even terminated whole classes of applications that were in processing. So it was not uncommon for many individuals to submit immigration applications under both economic and family reunification programs. Applicants who succeeded in being admitted through family reunification were then subject to conditional permanent residency, even though they had been working and living in Canada well before they had applied to immigrate. Unfortunately, the rules left some people trapped in relationships that they did not want to stay in. Such outcomes made it clear that the solution to marriage fraud should not be to impose hardship on all in order to catch a few.

While the repeal of conditional permanent residency might have caused some to think that the Liberals are soft on marriage fraud, it is important to note that the Trudeau government is maintaining two other significant measures that the Harper government introduced to address the issue.

The first Conservative reform that remains in place is the requirement that applicants must show that their marriage is genuine at the time of the visa officer’s assessment and that it was not entered into primarily for an immigration purpose. Before 2010, prospective immigrants had to prove only one or the other.

Second, in March 2012 the Conservatives introduced measures prohibiting immigrants who had been sponsored by a Canadian spouse or common-law partner from sponsoring a new spouse or common-law partner within five years after they immigrated. This change has prevented people from marrying a Canadian, immigrating to Canada, quickly divorcing the Canadian, travelling abroad, marrying someone else and then sponsoring that person to immigrate.

Given that both these reforms remain in effect, the Trudeau government’s approach to combatting marriage fraud can perhaps best be described as “three steps forward, one step back.” Supporters of both parties should have confidence that Canada currently has a system to combat marriage fraud that, while not perfect, generally works.

via Addressing concerns about marriage fraud

Nothing illegal about birth tourism at B.C. hospitals

More on birth tourism – numbers cited still small in relation to overall live births (about 44,000 in British Columbia 2014/15 ) but the local impact on the Richmond Hospital and residents being turned away should raise some concerns (according to the reporter, Pamela Fayerman, Richmond has the highest numbers of such births).

The relatively small numbers involved do not support the elimination of birthright citizenship but it is valid to question whether governments should regulate or prohibit birth tourism agencies or brokers.

For the overall numbers, see my earlier piece, What happened to Kenney’s cracking down on birth tourism? Feds couldn’t do it alone |

Federal authorities say foreign nationals coming to Vancouver to have babies aren’t breaking any laws as long as they can show they have money to pay for their medical care.

Birth tourism is becoming increasingly popular, especially in Richmond, where non-resident births are steadily rising, from just 18 in 2010 to 339 in the past fiscal year. Women primarily from China are seeking labour and delivery services at Richmond Hospital. Canada Border Services spokeswoman Sarah Lawley-Wakelin said pregnancy is “not a reason in itself to not admit a tourist.

“But if a foreigner is seeking entry to Canada for the express purpose of undergoing medical treatment and can’t show they have the money to pay for it, then that could be deemed by a CBSA officer as a potential excessive demand on health service, thus making that individual inadmissible.”

Chinese nationals must have a temporary (tourist/visitor) resident visa (TRV) to enter Canada and must state the purpose of travelling to Canada, said Nancy Caron, spokeswoman for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

“People should always be honest about the purpose of their visit when applying to come to Canada. It is a serious crime to lie or to provide false information or documents when dealing with (IRCC). Lying on an application or during in an interview with an IRCC officer is fraud and it is a crime,” Caron said.

 Asked if there have been any investigations, charges or convictions against foreigners who didn’t admit they were coming to Canada to have a baby, she said:

“Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada isn’t aware of any investigations into foreigners who didn’t admit they were entering Canada solely for the purpose of giving birth to a baby.”

Vancouver immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens said the increasing popularity of birth tourism would appear to be so mothers can obtain Canadian citizenship, passports, birth certificates and other documents for their newborns. “You’ve got women who do it to help their child and those who think it will give them a leg up on their own immigration efforts. So these are so-called anchor babies, yes.”

Since 1947, the Citizenship Act has guaranteed Canadian citizenship for those born here, Meurrens said, and although the previous Conservative government under Stephen Harper explored changes to the Act, nothing was done.

Meurrens said while birth tourism may “leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths” Canada has forever been a “settler society” and birth on soil citizenship is “central to our laws.”

“Where the real problems arise is when people skip out on their medical bills,” he said.

Freedom of information documents supplied to Postmedia by the B.C. government show that half of non-resident bills related to births are paid. Meurrens said since there are agencies or birth tourism brokers running birth houses — 26 at last count that the government is aware of — it may be possible for authorities to collect funds from them.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen pregnant Richmond residents were turned away from their local hospital in the past 18 months because it was too full to accommodate them.

Source: Nothing illegal about birth tourism at B.C. hospitals | Vancouver Sun

Beware campaign promises: how immigration policy makers are constrained in what they can do | Canadian Immigrant

Steven Meurrens on evaluating immigration-related campaign promises:

During this election campaign, when Canada’s political parties make commitments to introduce new immigration programs, reduce processing times, admit as many privately sponsored refugees as possible, remove restrictions on the number of Canadians who can sponsor their parents, or even to allow every Canadian to sponsor a family member from overseas, a discerning voter must analyze how that party plans to manage the program within the above-mentioned limitations. Even if you’re not yet a citizen and can’t vote, you have the right to ask questions and be part of the dialogue.

For example, if a political party promises to expand the family class so that every Canadian citizen and/or permanent resident can sponsor a relative, then a discerning voter — before getting too excited — must ask which element of the impossible trinity will be missing? Is that party committing to a massive, uncontrolled increase in Canada’s population? If not, then will the new program have very slow processing times or a limit on the number of Canadians who can actually sponsor their relative through caps, lotteries or an expression of interest system? If it does, then how many people will actually benefit from the program?

If the political party tries to dodge the issue or pretend that it does not exist, then you will know that it is either hiding the devil in the details, or simply making pandering commitments without having thought the issue through.

My goal in writing the above is to help make sure that you don’t fall for it.

Source: Beware campaign promises: how immigration policy makers are constrained in what they can do | Canadian Immigrant