One in three Ukrainians with visas have reached Canada as applications approach 700K

Of note. Possibly to ensure they have the option in case needed, as hinted at by Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine::

Government statistics show fewer than one-third of Ukrainians approved for temporary Canadian visas have arrived in the country, even as hundreds of thousands of others remain in the queue waiting to find out if they qualify to travel to Canada.

The temporary visas are part of the special immigration measures introduced by the federal government in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine giving Ukrainians emergency authorization to travel and stay in Canada.

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the government received nearly 700,000 requests from Ukrainians to travel to Canada under the special program between March and November.

Yet the department says only around 420,000 applications have been approved so far, while statistics from the Canada Border Services Agency show about 117,000 have actually reached Canada. The majority of those arrived by air.

It wasn’t immediately clear why so few Ukrainians authorized to travel to Canada have done so.

Meanwhile, a document tabled in the House of Commons last week shows that the average processing time for the majority of visas between March and September was 72 days — or more than 10 weeks.

Tabled in response to a written question from Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, the document also says that as of September, about 14 per cent of the applications were for children under 18 while around five per cent were for people aged 61 and older.

The response also says 1,757 applications were rejected and 1,415 applications were withdrawn as of Sept. 20.

It goes on to caution that total application numbers held by the immigration department could be “inflated” because some people have multiple applications associated with their files.

Genuis had asked for data about whether anyone accepted under the program lived outside of Ukraine before Russia’s invasion.

But the department said it was not able to determine a person’s country of residence prior to their application, and that applicants are only required to declare their current country of residence.

In testimony to a Senate committee last week, Ukrainian Ambassador to Canada Larisa Galadza said that to her knowledge, Canada is receiving 14,000 applications a week from Ukrainians, and about seven million civilians have fled Ukraine in total.

She noted that the fact Canada is providing a three-year visa to applicants lessens the pressure to travel immediately.

Source: One in three Ukrainians with visas have reached Canada as applications approach 700K

Liberals say Russia visa ban would trap dissidents, as more Canadians blacklisted

Agree, right call but diligence required with respect to those close to the Putin regime:
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said she does not support following European countries in barring Russians from getting visas, arguing dissidents are facing increasing danger.
She also said Russia needs to be prosecuted for illegally invading Ukraine, a view Moscow rejected while adding dozens more Canadians to its blacklist Thursday.

Source: Liberals say Russia visa ban would trap dissidents, as more Canadians blacklisted

Que se passe-t-il avec les demandes de visa pour le Canada? [sigh…]

Another are of problems at IRCC. Surprising in one sense as visitor visas have been one of the programs that has advanced the most on AI, and thus should be reaping benefits of faster processing for most cases. Requiring applicants to resubmit applications is not, needless to say, good service practice:

En contradiction avec l’information affichée sur son site Web, le gouvernement fédéral demande à certains visiteurs de déposer une seconde demande de visa pour le Canada si leur première a eu le malheur de se retrouver dans la pile des dossiers non traités lors de la pandémie. Une « file d’attente » au sort incertain qui cause bien des maux de tête.

« Si vous devez voyager au Canada en ce moment, veuillez noter qu’une nouvelle demande devrait être soumise. »

L’avocat spécialisé en immigration Denis Girard a été surpris de la réponse que lui a envoyée le bureau des visas de Dakar le 13 décembre 2021, alors qu’il se questionnait sur l’important retard dans la délivrance du visa de visiteur d’une de ses clientes originaires du Mali.

Celle-ci voulait venir visiter sa fille et ses petits-enfants au Canada, un voyage pour lequel elle fait une demande le 25 juillet précédent. Mais voilà que dans ce courriel, que Le Devoir a consulté, on demandait sans explication à la dame de refaire le processus. C’est qu’un événement important est survenu entre-temps : le Canada a rouvert ses frontières aux voyageurs vaccinés venant au pays pour des raisons non essentielles.

Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté Canada (IRCC) en a profité pour balancer toutes les demandes de visa effectuées avant cette date dans un étrange purgatoire bureaucratique où sont coincés des milliers de dossiers sans que leurs auteurs en soient informés. Cela a eu pour effet de faire gonfler les statistiques d’attente pour l’obtention d’un visa dans certains pays.

Sur son site Web, IRCC recommande aux personnes qui ont soumis une demande de visa de visiteur avant le 7 septembre 2021 d’en soumettre une nouvelle si leur situation a changé. Une consigne qui a rendu perplexe Me Girard. « Une nouvelle demande de visa ne semble pas requise [pour ma cliente], si on se fie aux représentations d’IRCC, représentations qui se révéleront être fausses », souligne l’avocat, qui note une contradiction entre la directive envoyée par courriel et ce qui se retrouve sur le Web.

Sa cliente a finalement déposé une nouvelle demande, sans remboursement, pour un visa qui a été produit 16 jours plus tard.

Le Devoir a tenté d’obtenir des explications d’IRCC concernant l’exigence de dépôt d’une nouvelle demande. À cinq reprises, IRCC a refusé de dire quelle était sa recommandation pour les personnes sans nouvelles de leur dossier et dont la situation n’a pas changé, hormis l’impatience de l’attente. Le ministère recopiait chaque fois la procédure pour les personnes dont la situation a changé.

Manque d’informations

Ce manque de clarté cause beaucoup d’incertitude. Originaire d’Haïti, Michelet Joseph a déposé une demande de visa de visiteur en août 2021. Il fit face à un dilemme : la refaire, ou pas ? « Je n’ai pas envie de retirer ma demande sans être remboursé. Je la maintiens, mais cette dernière n’est pas traitée », laisse-t-il tomber.

IRCC souligne qu’« il n’y a pas de garantie de remboursement » si une nouvelle demande est déposée.

Celui qui travaille comme journaliste à Port-au-Prince, où « il gagne très bien sa vie », souhaite venir au Canada pour rencontrer des artistes de son pays qui se produisent en terre canadienne. « J’ai besoin de les connaître pour pouvoir parler d’eux, dit-il. J’hésite à renvoyer une demande parce que j’ai déjà soumis plein de documents et je ne sais pas s’ils les reçoivent ou s’ils les mettent de côté. C’est frustrant. »

« Je ne sais pas quoi faire », indique également Natasha, qui préfère témoigner sous un nom d’emprunt par crainte de répercussions sur son propre dossier d’immigration. « Si je dépose une nouvelle demande, est-ce qu’on va l’abandonner de nouveau et encore nous dire les mêmes choses ? »

L’étudiante haïtienne à Montréal tente de faire venir sa mère (qui vit toujours en Haïti, mais qui est une habituée des voyages au Canada) pour sa cérémonie de collation des grades au mois d’août. Le Devoir a confirmé que la demande de visa a été enregistrée avec un an d’avance, le 27 août 2021, mais Natasha n’a eu aucune nouvelle du dossier depuis 11 mois. Les délais de traitement pour un visa demandé depuis Haïti sont pourtant estimés à 91 jours, selon le site Web d’IRCC.

« L’information, honnêtement, n’est pas claire du tout. Personne n’est joignable », témoigne celle qui ignore toujours si elle doit ou non déposer une nouvelle demande pour la visite de sa mère.

Petite histoire d’une file d’attente

Trois sources diplomatiques contactées séparément ont confirmé que l’arriéré des demandes de visa pose un problème aux ambassades canadiennes. Deux d’entre elles affirment que des responsables d’IRCC, le ministère qui gère de manière autonome les dossiers d’immigration, leur ont carrément fait savoir que les demandes déposées avant le 7 septembre 2021 ne seraient jamais traitées.

Officiellement, le ministère dit continuer à examiner ces vieilles demandes. Mais par la même occasion, il présente un portrait peu rassurant pour ceux qui attendent leur visa depuis près d’un an.

D’abord, le ministère a suspendu le traitement des demandes non urgentes entre avril et juillet 2020, tout en permettant le dépôt de dossiers. « Ceux qui ont demandé à voyager au Canada pour des raisons non essentielles pendant cette période ont vu leur demande placée dans la file d’attente », explique la porte-parole d’IRCC, Julie Lafortune.

Ensuite, et durant les 14 mois qui ont suivi, les fonctionnaires ont traité principalement les demandes de visiteurs exemptés des restrictions de voyage. « Un arriéré de demandes de visa de visiteur s’est accumulé », admet sans détour un document du ministère.

Finalement, lorsque les restrictions de voyage ont été assouplies, le 7 septembre 2021, IRCC a décidé que les demandes déposées avant cette date tomberaient dans cette malheureuse « file d’attente », qui a pour caractéristique d’imposer un traitement beaucoup plus lent. Le ministère invoque la « complexité » des dossiers, comme des documents périmés ou l’évolution des circonstances.

IRCC soutient par ailleurs toujours suivre un modèle du « premier entré, premier sorti », soit le traitement des plus vieilles demandes de la file d’attente avant les plus récentes ; le ministère se permet toutefois de traiter d’abord des dossiers moins complexes.

Seulement en 2021, près de 250 000 demandes qu’IRCC n’est pas arrivé à traiter se sont ajoutées à la file. La majorité des demandes déposées en 2022 ont, elles, été traitées.

Source: Que se passe-t-il avec les demandes de visa pour le Canada?

The visa hurdle: Why conference applicants from the global south can’t always clear it

Of note as Canadian media is covering this issue as well:

Tanaka Chirombo was afraid he wouldn’t make it to the 24th International AIDS Conference taking place in Montreal later this month.

Chirombo lives in Malawi, and his life work revolves around HIV. His interest in the virus began with his father, who delighted him with made-up stories as a boy. His dad contracted HIV but delayed seeking medical help because of the stigma of the disease and the cost of treatment. It progressed into AIDS, and he passed away when Chirombo was 4 years old.

Tanaka Chirombo of Malawi, whose life work revolves around HIV, was at first rejected for a Canadian visa to attend the international AIDS conference in Montreal this month. “The main issue was me coming back from Canada,” he says. “They thought I was going to stay in Canada.” He did find success with a follow-up application.

As Chirombo grew up, he witnessed others in his community die of complications stemming from AIDS. When he was a teenager, he volunteered at a clinic, where he mentored a 10-year-old girl with HIV. He helped her secure treatment, but it came too late and she too passed away.

It’s these issues — of battling stigma and getting people the care and information they need — that are at the heart of Chirombo’s HIV advocacy today. As the board chair of the Global Network of Young People Living with HIV, he works to help young women who are HIV positive by reducing discrimination and improving access to HIV services.

So when this year’s International AIDS Conference was announced, he knew he wanted to be there. “I would love to meet stakeholders in Montreal to be able to get funding to expand our projects,” Chirombo says. In fact, he’s serving as the meeting’s youth representative and is on the organizing committee as a co-chair for the Global Village and Youth Programme Working Group.

But to go to Montreal, he needs a visa. For someone from a low-income country like Malawi, getting permission to travel abroad can be an expensive obstacle course. It ran Chirombo about $1,100. “I spent money for the online application,” he explains, “and then had to book a return flight ticket to South Africa to do the biometrics,” referring to fingerprinting. He sent a copy of his passport and a letter describing the international conferences he’d attended before.

Within two weeks, the answer from the Canadian government arrived. Chirombo’s visa application was denied. “The main issue was me coming back from Canada,” he says. “They thought I was going to stay in Canada.”

The letter he received stated, “I am not satisfied that you will leave Canada at the end of your stay as a temporary resident … based on your personal assets and financial status … the purpose of your visit … [and] your current employment situation.” None of it made sense to him.

“I don’t think I would ever live abroad because I want to be able to change the landscape in my country — the country I love the most,” Chirombo says. “That’s the whole reason I’m doing this sort of work.”

The rejection was really hard on him.

“When I read that letter, I was sad first thing,” he recalls. “I went online, I thought I could write a post to bring out my anger. But then I deleted it. I was like, ‘No, that’s irrational for me to do something like that.’ But basically, I just slept. It was the easiest way to get over the pain of being rejected.”

Since that initial denial, Chirombo submitted a revised visa application. He attached additional bank statements, his return ticket and letters of support “to be able to show my commitment that I’m still going to go back home.”

A couple weeks later, Chirombo heard that his visa had been granted — and just in time since the International AIDS Conference begins on July 29.

Kareem Samsudeen Adebola, an advocate for youth who are HIV positive in Nigeria, was initially rejected in his application for a Canadian visa to attend the upcoming international AIDS conference. Adebola says when he takes note of everyone who’s been rejected for a visa, the feeling can be boiled down to a single word — “inequality.” His second visa application was accepted.

Kareem Samsudeen Adebola

Chirombo’s experience isn’t unique. Kareem Samsudeen Adebola is the deputy national coordinator for the Association of Positive Youth in Lagos, Nigeria, where he works to reduce stigma and provide access to public health services to young people living with HIV. He too lost his father to AIDS-related complications when he was a boy. Adebola has HIV as well and has been on antiretroviral therapy for close to 20 years. He does his advocacy work today in his father’s memory. “I have to fulfill his dreams that AIDS could not allow him to fulfill,” he says.

Like Chirombo, Adebola wants to attend the International AIDS conference in Montreal to connect with scientists in the field and network with global experts. But within a week of submitting his visa application to Canada, it was denied for the same reason as Chirombo’s initial rejection.

Adebola says when he takes note of everyone who’s been rejected, the feeling can be boiled down to a single word — “inequality.” Adebola says that “it saddens my heart when I think about people from countries who can’t attend.” Fortunately, his second visa application was accepted.

Not every visa applicant is as lucky as Chirombo and Adebola. Researchers, scientists and medical professionals from the global south (which encompasses low- and middle-income countries) are among those who simply can’t attend professional meetings abroad because their visas arrive too late or not at all. It’s a problem that many from high-income countries never even think about.

Dr. Ulrick Sidney Kanmounye of Cameroon — currently a research fellow at Geisinger Health System specializing in cerebrovascular neurosurgery — detailed his inability to receive a Schengen visa to travel to Europe and attend the World Health Assembly (the annual meeting of the World Health Organization in 2019 while living in Cameroon. “The truth is that I lost more than just money,” recounts Kanmounye. “I lost faith in those that organize these events in high income countries.”

Dr. Mohamed Bella Jalloh, recalls how in 2018, as a recent medical school graduate, he traveled from Sierra Leone to Côte d’Ivoire to apply for a Belgian visa to attend the InciSioN Global Surgery Symposium. Jalloh was denied for “no definite reason.” He says, “They just sent back my passport without any further explanation.”

In January 2019, Dr. Dian Blandina (currently with the organization People’s Health Movement) received her EU residency card. Two years earlier, when she had only her Indonesian citizenship, she was invited to speak at the International Association of Health Policy meeting in Thessaloniki, Greece. Although her visa was approved, the process was costly and took a month and a half. Blandina nearly missed the conference.

After that, she stopped trying to attend international meetings. “It’s just not worth the trouble for attending just one event,” Blandina says, “especially if I’m not [an] organizer or a presenter. Almost all my colleagues back home feel the same.”

Then there’s Dr. Mehr Muhammad Adeel Riaz. Earlier this year, working as a junior doctor at the Allied Hospital in Faisalabad, Pakistan, he was invited to attend the 75th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. “Having the chance to attend and advocate on behalf of my community at this high level [meeting] was a dream come true,” he emailed NPR. He received a scholarship to cover his visa fees, roundtrip airfare, accommodations and food.

But his request for a visa was rejected. According to the Swiss Embassy: “the information submitted regarding the justification for the purpose and conditions of the intended stay was not reliable.” It made Riaz feel as if having a passport from Pakistan was a failing on his part, and he regrets missing the opportunity to meet global health professionals “to increase the visibility of my work as a young global health advocate,” he says.

These types of experiences are discouraging. Dr. Ankit Raj, a junior resident at Sawai Man Singh Medical College in Jaipur, India, says the interview process for a visa feels designed to intimidate. “The questions are highly specific, detailed and often beyond the scope of purpose of visit,” he explains. “The entire process often feels like a criminal interrogation and the applicant ends up feeling guilt ridden toward the end of the interview.”

As for the upcoming International AIDS Conference, organizers are working with the Canadian authorities to clarify what’s needed to avoid visa rejections for global south applicants. And they’re offering scholarships and fee waivers to make it cheaper to attend. If attendees can’t come in person, they can log into the proceedings virtually.

But Madhukar Pai, an epidemiologist at McGill University, says virtual participation is far from ideal. “What happens to all of the side room discussions, the coffee, the chat at the bar at night?,” he asks. “How do you network, make deals, get opportunities, all of those intangible benefits of in-person meetings?”

And this exclusion of people from lower resource countries means, according to Pai, that it’s often attendees from higher income countries who make the decisions that can shape funding and the research landscape. It’s an issue compounded by disparities in COVID vaccination status, especially earlier in the pandemic, that allowed many people from higher income countries to receive two shots and a booster and to travel with ease, while many in low- and middle-income countries struggled to get even a single dose.

“The fact that we left behind people without even the first shot worries me a lot because they will always struggle to go anywhere,” Pai says. In his view, the impact on global health gatherings is profound. “People from the global south might be relegated to a secondary status,” he says. If we’re not careful, he adds that “we will dramatically worsen the inequities already in global health.”

The problem isn’t new, explains Adnan Hyder, vice-chair of the Board of Health Systems Global, a group that promotes health policy. “The historical tendency was always the high-income countries were able to put forth resources to attract those meetings,” he says.

The locations of these gatherings matter. When Kanmounye and a research team from Harvard University’s Program in Global Surgery and Social Change looked at publicly available data, they found that conferences hosted in low- and middle-income countries were more likely to have diverse participants. In addition, “hosting a conference in Latin America, Africa or Asia significantly increased participation of researchers from the region and minimally impacted high-income country attendance,” he says. NPR reached out for confirmation to a few organizations that host global health meetings, but they all replied that they don’t track how many people from low- and middle-income countries are denied visas to attend their conferences.

“Frankly speaking, the decision-making around where to host those meetings was not as sensitive to the concerns that we are talking about today,” says Hyder. “But I think over the past decade or so that has improved. We have a long ways to go, but I think the intention is there for equity.”

He cites the biannual symposium that his organization hosts. In 2018, it was held in Liverpool, and the World Health Organization voiced concerns over colleagues having their visas denied. This fall, it will take place in Bogotá , Colombia.

But if the locations of meetings like these remain largely unchanged, some worry about the voices that won’t be heard. The people whose visas are denied are often from the very countries where many global health concerns are most acute.

“Unless you are fully immersed and living and breathing in a country for years, you will not [know] what lies below, which is so much deeper, more complex,” says Michelle Joseph, an orthopedic surgeon and an instructor in Global Health and Social Medicine at the Harvard Medical School. “You may have theoretical knowledge, you don’t have lived experience. And lived experience takes years and that’s only afforded to those who live and reside and work in that space. And those are the voices that require amplification.”

Voices like Tanaka Chirombo from Malawi. At this point, all that’s left is for his Canadian visa to be printed out, pasted into his passport and returned to him. He leaves for Montreal in less than two weeks.

Source: The visa hurdle: Why conference applicants from the global south can’t always clear it

‘It’s a racist system’: Some couples say Canada’s visa system is cruelly extending their COVID-19 separations

Visa requirements by their very nature discriminate between those more likely to overstay and those not:

Still in pain after delivering her first child, Kaitlyn Hebb asked her mother in the birthing room to video-call her husband in Egypt, so he could meet their newborn son.

It’s the closest the new mother from Bridgewater, N.S., could come to sharing the moment with Alaa Ali, who has been kept out of Canada while waiting for his stalled spousal sponsorship application to be processed in the middle of a pandemic.

“Alaa is never going to get this moment back. He’s never going to be in pictures. He couldn’t be here to help me. He couldn’t be here to hold our baby. I felt guilty,” said Hebb, a registered nurse, who married Ali in 2018 after the couple met online two years earlier.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed a practice entrenched in Canada’s immigration system that critics say is discriminatory against some travellers — the majority of whom are from the developing world — who need a valid visa to come into this country.

Due to COVID-19, Ottawa has imposed tight border restrictions against foreign nationals. But two weeks ago, it relaxed the measures to let in unmarried but committed partners of Canadians, as well as international students and those with a dying family member here.

However, one is out of luck if the foreign partner, even married, as Ali is to Hebb, is from a country that needs a visa — a barrier that travellers from visa-exempted countries don’t face.

“Alaa is being discriminated against because of the country he’s from,” said Hebb, whose husband was refused a visitor visa and has yet to hold their now-six-month-old son, Enzo.

“People are saying, ‘It’s like that for everyone. It’s the pandemic. Wait your turn and we need to keep people safe.’ But they don’t realize it has been that way before the pandemic.”

Advocates say couples’ married status can actually work against their chances of getting a visitor visa.

Chantal Dube is a spokesperson for Spousal Sponsorship Advocates, a 5,000-member advocacy group that has been lobbying for family reunifications during COVID-19. She said officials almost always refuse to grant a visitor’s visa if they don’t believe that the applicant’s stay in Canada will be temporary. Those being sponsored by their Canadian spouses are viewed to have the intent to overstay, she said.

The majority of the advocacy group’s members have a spouse from a visa-required country. A survey it conducted in September found only five per cent — or 29 of the 553 respondents — have had their foreign spouses’ visitor visas approved.

“As we are watching all these other spouses and partners and extended family members being granted permission to come to Canada, we have members of our group who can’t even come for the birth of their children. It’s very difficult to wrap our head around it,” said Dube.

“How’s that fair and compassionate? That’s a misstep for our government. It’s important to investigate a possibility of systemic discrimination going on.”

Dube is from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and her husband, Arvind Singh Grewal, is from India. With their spousal sponsorship application in the system since last October, he has not applied for a visitor visa, for just this reason.

“Why would we put our spousal sponsorship applications at risk by overstepping the boundaries of the time limit put on the temporary visas?” asked Dube, whose members will stage a national virtual protest Saturday.

Opposition NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said officials often “robotically” refuse applicants, citing their lack of travel history and assets in their home country.

“We have dealt with cases where people are still rejected on this ground even if they have had travel history without incident,” Kwan said.

“It’s as if the travel history for individuals in developing countries is somehow less valid than those in developed countries. It is as if there is some unspoken rule that the standards to obtain a travel visa for those from developing countries are much higher.”

Deanna McConnell of Perth, Ont., said her Haitian husband, Jean Bernard Valeus, has had his visitor visa applications refused twice because immigration officials were not convinced he would leave Canada after his stay.

That was on top of a refusal of their first spousal sponsorship in 2018 because officials didn’t believe it was a genuine marriage. A new sponsorship application was submitted in February 2019 and a decision is pending.

“Our lives are on hold with no recourse. On Feb. 14, 2021, we will be married for four years. That is less than three months away. We are at the mercy of the system,” said McConnell, who met Valeus while visiting her cousin in Haiti in 2011.

“Why is this so difficult?”

Joelle Bruneau of Val-David, Que., was so sick and tired of the separation from her husband, Erick Pineda in Honduras, that she and their 20-month-old daughter, Estrella, flew down to see him as soon as his country’s border reopened in August.

He has twice been refused a visitor visa during Bruneau’s pregnancy and twice after the girl’s birth. Meanwhile, Bruneau said the parents of her friend were allowed to visit Canada from France during the pandemic.

“This is totally unfair. It’s a racist system we live in. All the people from privileged systems can come and enjoy their time with their families. Erick is from a developing country. The process is so much harder for him,” said Bruneau, who met Pineda while vacationing in 2018.

“All the moments Canada Immigration has stolen from us, we will never have it back,” added Bruneau, whose spousal sponsorship has been in the queue since January 2019.

In response to a growing immigration backlog, the federal government in September announced a plan to assign 66 per cent more staff to process spousal sponsorship applications. It aims to accelerate, prioritize and finalize some 6,000 applications each month from October until December.

“We understand that the last few months have not been easy for those who are far from their loved ones in these difficult times. This is why we are accelerating the approval of spousal applications as much as possible,” said Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino.

Spousal Sponsorship Advocates says it’s great to see the government invest in addressing the backlog but what their members immediately need is a visitor visa for their loved ones to be with them in Canada now.

Source: ‘It’s a racist system’: Some couples say Canada’s visa system is cruelly extending their COVID-19 separations

Home Office to scrap ‘racist algorithm’ for UK visa applicants

Of note and a reminder that algorithms reflect the views and biases of the programmers and developers, and thus require careful management and oversight:

The Home Office is to scrap a controversial decision-making algorithm that migrants’ rights campaigners claim created a “hostile environment” for people applying for UK visas.

The “streaming algorithm”, which campaigners have described as racist, has been used since 2015 to process visa applications to the UK. It will be abandoned from Friday, according to a letter from Home Office solicitors seen by the Guardian.

The decision to scrap it comes ahead of a judicial review from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), which was to challenge the Home Office’s artificial intelligence system that filters UK visa applications.

Campaigners claim the Home Office decision to drop the algorithm ahead of the court case represents the UK’s first successful challenge to an AI decision-making system.

Chai Patel, JCWI’s legal policy director, said: “The Home Office’s own independent review of the Windrush scandal found it was oblivious to the racist assumptions and systems it operates.

“This streaming tool took decades of institutionally racist practices, such as targeting particular nationalities for immigration raids, and turned them into software. The immigration system needs to be rebuilt from the ground up to monitor such bias and to root it out.”

Source: Home Office to scrap ‘racist algorithm’ for UK visa applicants

Is Trump admitting defeat with his new U.S. visa rules?

Likely, a narrower administrative approach that will nevertheless be subject to legal challenges. But this analysis, essentially arguing that the measure is more virtue signalling to his base, given some of the implementation issues covered in earlier posts, is likely correct:

Last week, the State Department released regulations effective Jan. 24 that make it more difficult for pregnant women to get tourist visas to visit the United States. It’s part of the Trump administration’s attack on “birth tourism,” a term that implies that some women visit just to give birth to a U.S. citizen child. The changes attempt to do an end run around the 14th Amendment, which says that anyone born on U.S. soil is a citizen.

Throughout immigration history — both in the United States and in other countries — pregnant women’s motives have been scrutinized. This new regulation may be an acknowledgment that the Trump administration can’t get rid of birthright citizenship as easily as it may wish.

What’s the change?

The regulations instruct U.S. Embassy personnel around the world to explicitly deny applications for what are called B1/B2 visas (a temporary visa for business and tourism) for birth tourism. The provisions don’t apply to tourists from the 39 (mostly European) countries covered by the visa waiver program, which allows citizens of these countries to visit the United States without a visa.

Here’s the wording:

“This rule establishes that travel to the United States with the primary purpose of obtaining US citizenship for a child by giving birth in the United States is an impermissible basis for the issuance of a B nonimmigrant visa.”

(Department of State, Public notice 10930, pages 1-2)

While there are exemptions for women traveling to the United States for medical treatment, applicants must prove that treatment is necessary and that they can pay for it.

Birthright citizenship around the world

More than 30 countries around the world have some kind of birthright citizenship. But the terms vary widely. While some countries like the United States offer citizenship unconditionally to anyone born on their soil (with narrow exceptions for the children of diplomats), others condition citizenship on such factors as how long the parent or parents have lived in the country or their immigration status; where the child will live; or some combination of those.

At least one country that used to grant birthright citizenship, Ireland, repealed it by referendum in 2004 because many people thought that pregnant foreign women were using a child’s birth on Irish soil to secure residency and circumvent Irish asylum laws. Gender and women’s studies professor Eithne Lubehéld‘s book “Pregnant on Arrival: Making the Immigrant Illegal” observes that the Irish drew inspiration and information from U.S. debates about birth tourism.

In the United States, birthright citizenship dates to Reconstruction

The 14th Amendment states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the States wherein they reside.” The Amendment, ratified in 1868 during Reconstruction, clarified the citizenship status of free black Americans and overturned the 1857 Supreme Court case Dred Scott v. Sanford that stated that black people could not be citizens.

While the amendment was being debated, some members of Congress worried that birthright citizenship would enable the Chinese to become citizens. But concern for children born to European immigrants overrode the anti-Asian prejudice. The Supreme Court clarified that the birthright citizenship clause covers children born to immigrants — not just formerly enslaved and free African Americans — in U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark (1898), writing:

“To hold that the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution excludes from citizenship the children, born in the United States, of citizens or subjects of other countries would be to deny citizenship to thousands of persons of English, Scotch, Irish, German, or other European parentage who have always been considered and treated as citizens of the United States.”

U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark (1898)

Historically, the United States has scrutinized pregnant immigrant women — sometimes excluding or deporting them — under the provisions “likely to become a public charge” and “moral turpitude,” dating back to the early 20th century. The public-charge regulation grew from fear that pregnant immigrant women would use public resources like hospitals, burdening American communities both economically and socially. Moral turpitude was supposed to exclude immigrants who had committed certain crimes or offenses — although it has never been clear which ones, exactly, would get someone excluded or deported. Consular officers sometimes used theseagainst women and others who violate social norms, such as unwed pregnant women or single women traveling alone.

In his recent book “Almost Citizens: Puerto Rico, the U.S. Constitution, and U.S. Empire,” legal scholar Sam Erman wrote that in the early 20th century, the commissioner of immigration told Ellis Island immigration inspectors to aggressively enforce the public-charge provisions. Under these instructions, Erman writes, “Ellis Island policy dictated that women who were pregnant and not married had to be held for additional investigation.”

Rutgers student Alyzette Consoli wrote about Minnie Langford, a pregnant black woman traveling from Nova Scotia to New York City in 1920. When she was hospitalized at Bellevue because of pregnancy complications, immigration officials were notified and she was deported. Consoli noted, “It was common practice at this time to exclude a woman on the basis of being ‘Likely to become a Public Charge’ (LPC) when they were actually being targeted for moral turpitude offenses.”

What does all this mean for the Trump administration’s new regulations?

Consular officers already enjoy wide discretion in granting and denying visas, and they do not have to explain their denials. An applicant has no right to appeal, and the decision is not subject to judicial review.

President Trump has often railed against the United States’ generous birthright citizenship policy. In a 2018 interview with Axios, he stated, “We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States … with all of those benefits. … It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. And it has to end.”

Changing the regulations may be the administration’s concession to those who insist that the only way to get rid of birthright citizenship would be by amending the Constitution, even though Trump has argued that a law or an executive order would be enough.

AI system for granting UK visas is biased, rights groups claim

Always a challenge with AI, ensuring that the algorithms do not replicate or create bias:

Immigrant rights campaigners have begun a ground-breaking legal case to establish how a Home Office algorithm that filters UK visa applications actually works.

The challenge is the first court bid to expose how an artificial intelligence program affects immigration policy decisions over who is allowed to enter the country.

Foxglove, a new advocacy group promoting justice in the new technology sector, is supporting the case brought by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) to legally force the Home Office to explain on what basis the algorithm “streams” visa applicants.

The two groups both said they feared the AI “streaming tool” created three channels for applicants including a “fast lane” that would lead to “speedy boarding for white people”.

The Home Office has insisted that the algorithm is used only to allocate applications and does not ultimately rule on them. The final decision remains in the hands of human caseworkers and not machines, it said.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “We have always used processes that enable UK Visas and Immigration to allocate cases in an efficient way.

“The streaming tool is only used to allocate applications, not to decide them. It uses data to indicate whether an application might require more or less scrutiny and it complies fully with the relevant legislation under the Equalities Act 2010.”

Cori Crider, a director at Foxglove, rejected the Home Office’s defence of the AI system.

Source: AI system for granting UK visas is biased, rights groups claim

Visitors from India face high rejection rates on visa applications

Good analysis of the data and indication that the government is addressing fraud and applying risk management to different applications:

Refusals on visitor applications from India due to fraud and misrepresentation are soaring, which Ottawa and immigration experts say is in part due to unscrupulous “ghost consultants.”

While the number of Indian visitor visa applications has increased significantly, refusals are growing at an even faster clip. Data provided by the federal government show that the percentage of refusals due to an applicant misrepresenting themselves – through fraudulent submissions, for instance – has nearly tripled. In 2017, 0.9 per cent of all Indian visitor visa rejections were for misrepresentation; from January to May this year, the number jumped to 2.5 per cent.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) refused 1,477 applications due to misrepresentation in 2017. Between January and May of this year, that number had already reached 3,709. The department could see close to a 500-per-cent increase in fraud refusals by year’s end compared with 2017 if current trends hold.

In response to the increasing number of refusals for Indian applications, in June the federal government rolled out an information campaign targeting Indians applying for visas. The effort includes resources on identifying and reporting fraud throughout the process, including by ghost consultants – unscrupulous, unlicensed immigration consultants.

“We anticipate that this campaign will help address some of the spinoff effects of circulating misinformation, such as high refusal rates and abuse of the asylum system,” Mathieu Genest, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, said in an e-mailed statement. Mr. Genest said the problem of ghost consultants is “particularly acute” in India.

Bank statements, income taxes, medical files, education histories, funeral home letters and even letters of support from members of Parliament are some of the types of fraudulent documents received by IRCC in recent years. Aside from fraud, Mr. Genest said the government is also seeing an increase in repeat applications from Indians previously denied and an overreliance on paper applications, which take longer to process, but noted that the increase in refusals should not affect legitimate applicants.

Partly owing to the increase in misrepresentation refusals, approval rates on Indian visitor visa applications have plummeted.

In April, 2015, 88 per cent of visa applications from India were approved – Ottawa received 27,600 applications that month. But by December of 2018, Canadian immigration authorities were receiving more than 58,000 applications each month and approval rates had dropped to 40.8 per cent.

The drop in India’s approval rates comes as the federal government has worked to streamline the visa process. According to documents obtained by The Globe and Mail through access-to-information requests, IRCC is using artificial-intelligence tools to review temporary resident visa applications from China and India as they come in.

Online applications predicted by AI models to be low-risk are sent to an immigration officer for review, simplifying the process. According to IRCC, 30 per cent to 40 per cent of China’s visitor visa applications are are now handled through this streamlined process; however, only 3 per cent to 5 per cent of Indian applications meet that low-risk threshold.

As of April, India was the top source of visitor visa applications to Canada. The country recently surpassed China, where applications have declined in recent months, which some attribute to the continuing diplomatic dispute between Ottawa and Beijing.

According to data from IRCC, Indians submitted 73,457 temporary resident visa applications that month, accounting for nearly a third of the worldwide total. China came in second place, with 46,646 applications.

Visitor visas are required for anyone from a non-visa-exempt country and looking to visit, work or study in Canada. As such, they’re often the first step in the immigration process.

Prashant Ajmera, an immigration lawyer in India who has an office in Montreal, was surprised to hear that the approval rate for visas from India had decreased so dramatically. He said the Canadian government has been touting the growing number of visitors from India, drawing attention to the fact that Canada welcomed nearly 300,000 visitors from that country last year. (There is no cap on how many visitor visas Canada issues each year.)

However, Mr. Ajmera said the Canadian government’s information campaign in India will not solve the problem, as applicants already know about visa fraud and immigration scams.

“They are aware of it but they’re taking calculated risks, most of them,” Mr. Ajmera said. “It’s a very common story.”

He said it would be a better use of Canada’s time to work with other like-minded governments, such as the United States, Britain and Australia, to encourage the Indian government to better regulate its immigration consultants in an effort to stem visa fraud.

One Canadian immigration lawyer thinks that the immigration consultant industry itself may be to blame. Ravi Jain, a Toronto-based immigration lawyer at Green and Spiegel LLP, said that lawyers are taking on clients who first worked with an Indian immigration consultant, only to find that the client’s visitor visa application was riddled with mistakes.

In some cases, unlicensed immigration consultants impersonate applicants throughout the process. “Often times, those people will even make up e-mail addresses. I’m not kidding, they do this,” he said.

Unscrupulous immigration consultants are not the only possible explanation for the decline in India’s approval rates.

Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said he believes visa fraud, particularly relating to study permits, is the main reason for the decline in the approval rate of temporary resident visas from India. He said study permits are the “number one threat to Canada’s immigration system today” because there is no cap on the number of permits the government can issue, allowing foreign immigration consultants to take advantage of the program.

A recent Globe and Mail investigation revealed that private colleges in Canada are being accused of paying overseas agents to persuade international students that paying tens of thousands of dollars in tuition to study in Canada is the easiest way to get into the country and work toward becoming a permanent resident.

Why are the U.S. immigration norms being tightened?

US immigration checking of social media noted in Indian media (a reminder to us all to more mindful when on social media):

The story so far: On May 31, 2019, the U.S. Department of State introduced a change in online visa forms for immigrant (form DS-260) and non-immigrant visas (form DS-160) requiring applicants to register their social media handles over a five-year period. The newly released DS-160 and DS-260 forms ask, “Do you have a social media presence?” A drop-down menu provides a list of some 20 options, including Facebook, Instagram, Sina Weibo and Twitter. There is also a “NONE” option. Applicants are required to list their handles alone and not passwords. All sites will soon be listable according to an administration official who spoke to The Hill, a Washington DC-based newsletter. The policy does not cover those eligible for the visa waiver programme and those applying for diplomatic visas and certain categories of official visas.

How did it come about?

The policy is part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s intent to conduct “extreme vetting” of foreigners seeking admission into the U.S. In March 2017, Mr. Trump issued an Executive Order asking the administration to implement a programme that “shall include the development of a uniform baseline for screening and vetting standards and procedures for all immigrant programs.”

In September 2017, the Department of Homeland Security started including “social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results” information in the files it keeps on each immigrant. The notice regarding this policy said those impacted would include Green Card holders and naturalised citizens. In March 2018, the State Department proposed a similar policy, but for all visa applicants — this is the policy now in effect. Earlier, only certain visa applicants identified for extra screening were required to provide such information. Asking visa applicants to volunteer social media history started during the Obama administration which was criticised for not catching Tashfeen Malik, one of those who carried out a mass-shooting in San Bernardino, California, in 2015. Malik had come to the U.S. on a K-1 fiancé visa, and had exchanged social media messages about jihad prior to her admission to the U.S.

How will it impact India?

Most Indians applying for U.S. visas will be covered by this policy. Over 955,000 non-immigrant visas (excluding A and G visas) and some 28,000 immigrant visas were issued to Indians in fiscal year 2018. So at least 10 lakh Indians — and these are just those who are successful in their visa applicants and not all applicants — will be directly impacted by the policy.

What lies ahead?

The new policy is expected to impact 14 million travellers to the U.S. and 700,000 immigrants worldwide according to the administration’s prior estimates. In some individual cases it is possible that the visa policy achieves what it is (ostensibly) supposed to — allow the gathering of social media information that results in the denial of a visa for an applicant who genuinely presents a security threat. However, the bluntness of the policy and its vast scope raise serious concerns around civil liberties including questions of arbitrariness, mass surveillance, privacy, and the stifling of free speech.

First, it is not unusual for an individual to not recall all their social media handles over a five-year period. Consequently, even if acting in good faith, it is entirely possible for individuals to provide an incomplete social media history. This could give consular officers grounds for denying a visa.

Second, there is a significant degree of discretion involved in determining what constitutes a visa-disqualifying social media post and this could stifle free speech. For instance, is criticising the President of the United States or posting memes about him (there are plenty of those on social media these days) grounds for visa denial? What about media professionals? Is criticising U.S. foreign policy ground for not granting someone a visa?

Third, one can expect processing delays with visas as social media information of applicants is checked. It is possible that individuals impacted by the policy will bring cases against the U.S. government on grounds of privacy or on grounds of visa delays. The strength of these cases depends on a number of factors including whether they are brought by Green Card holders and naturalised citizens (who were impacted by the September 2017 policy not the May 31 one) or non-immigrants. The courts could examine the intent of the U.S. government’s policy and ask whether it has discriminatory intent.

Source: Why are the U.S. immigration norms being tightened?