Here’s why the U.S. is pushing Ottawa to require visas from Mexicans

Good explainer:

When Canada lifted the visa requirements on Mexicans in late 2016, one of the first things Selene Mateos did was book a vacation to visit Vancouver with her girlfriend.

Drawn by Canada’s reputation as an “open and friendly” country, the couple jumped on the travel opportunity without the hassles of having to put together an application package and line up in queues —and without the prospect of cancelling their trip if a visa didn’t come through.

“If I’d needed a visa, I would’ve had to think about it three or four times more, even though I had all the proofs, of a job, income and ties to Mexico,” says the 35-year-old environmental engineer. “This makes travel easier and faster.”

Mateos was surprised when she learned from media reports this week that Washington has requested that Ottawa reimpose visas on Mexico after a surge of Mexican irregular migrants trying to cross into the U.S. through the northern border via Canada.

“I don’t think that’s fair, to be honest,” said Mateos, who now works in hospitality in Toronto on a work permit. “Even the U.S., Canada and Mexico are trade partners, we are the poor partner. We are not equal.”

That inequality is at the centre of concerns some have over the potential move — one critics say would severely restrict asylum seekers and punish residents of Mexico, a country that is a significant trading partner, but lacks the clout to resist whenever the U.S. wants to change the rules of the relationship.

The situation at the border

Mexicans are increasingly crossing the land border into the U.S. from Canada. The number caught crossing illegally has risen from a total of 1,169 in 2016 to some 300 a month since October, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.

Mexican refugees made up 7,483 of Canada’s 60,158 asylum claimants in 2022. During that year, more than 400,000 Mexicans came to visit. (That number of claims was up significantly from 250 in 2016, which was before Ottawa lifted its visa requirements on Mexico.)

In March, in response to the irregular migration at the northern border, Washington and Ottawa expanded the Safe Third Country Agreement across the entire land border, not just at official ports of entry, so asylum seekers crossing anywhere are turned back.

Still, compared to the U.S. southern border, where more than 2.5 million irregular migrants were stopped last year, the U.S.-Canada frontier is peanuts, says Laura Macdonald, a political science professor at Carleton University.

So why the increased amount of attention?

“There is some pressure being exerted by Republicans in Congress, Republicans from the northern states. Some of the northern states who want to make an issue out of this partly because they’re trying to convey the message that the Biden administration is weak on border control policies and weak on migration control,” said Macdonald, who studies North American relations and Latin American politics.

“I don’t think it’s a huge issue for the Biden administration. They have many other issues to deal with. But you could see how politicians in the border states could get caught up in that kind of dynamic. So he’s telling Canada they have to fall into line about policies that the U.S. government wants to enact.”

An unequal relationship

The U.S. has always required visas from Mexicans in order to screen out those who come to seek asylum or likely overstay their visits, while Canada has changed its policy back and forth under different governments.

In 2009, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government slapped Mexico with a visa rule in response to an influx of Mexican refugees who fled gang violence and drug cartels. The requirement was lifted in 2016, after Justin Trudeau’s Liberals came to power.

For Washington and Ottawa, visa decisions are tied to border control and economic interests, said Macdonald, but Mexico can never afford to put up travel barriers against its northern neighbours.

“Tourism is such a huge interest. So that goes back to the power asymmetries in the region. The U.S. and Canada could contemplate having such a visa and Mexico will never, ever retaliate in that form,” she said.

The reasons for crossing from Canada into the U.S.

Ramiro Arteaga, founder of a Mexican Canadian Facebook group, says there’s been a lot of discussions within the diaspora about the Biden administration’s visa proposition to Ottawa, with many worrying about further stigmatization of the community.

Arteaga says he’s against visa requirements which would restrict Mexicans’ families and friends from visiting them in Canada, and he doesn’t believe such measures would stop irregular migrants determined to cross into the U.S. at all costs.

He said it has always been easier for Mexicans to get to Canada than to the U.S., even when both countries required visas. And some of his compatriots have always had their eyes set on the U.S., for a variety of reasons.

“The language is not a barrier down there. You can go to Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, anywhere you go, you can find someone who speaks Spanish. You can find your own church, your own community, your own places to gather,” said Arteaga, 48, whose Facebook group has 250,000 members, mostly in Canada.

“It’s more likely to have a family member or someone from the same town back home living in the U.S. You can get jobs easily there. It’s more difficult if you are coming here and you don’t know the language and you don’t know anyone.”

The fallout of imposing visas

Efrat Arbel, an immigration law professor at University of British Columbia, said a visa requirement is a blunt instrument imposed by western countries to stem asylum flow from so-called refugee-producing countries.

“ If an asylum seeker is fleeing for their lives, then they don’t have the time, the ability or the capacity in most situations to apply for a visa in order to set foot on Canadian soil,” she said.

“The effect is that those individuals are prohibited from travel, are prohibited from making access of lawful routes of entry in order to seek refuge from persecution. It works contrary to the basic commitments of refugee protection that underpin our asylum regime.”

The visa requirement is among many tools Canada has implemented over the years to restrict people from certain regions and countries from coming, she said.

Even valid visa holders can be kept off a Canada-bound flight by air carriers that fear sanctions for bringing in “improperly documented persons,” or by border liaison officers stationed abroad, who flag travellers at their discretion.

“All of these mechanisms operate in tandem and Canada is systematically closing its borders to refugees,” said Arbel.

How will a decision be made?

In assessing whether to impose or abolish visa requirements, Canada’s immigration department said officials look at the socio-economic profile of the country, immigration issues, travel documents, security concerns, border management, human rights and bilateral relations.

“Canada values its strong ties with Mexico. The visa lift (ending the requirement in 2016) underscores the commitment Canada made to further enhance and expand its relationship with Mexico,” said department spokesperson Stuart Isherwood.

“The visa lift has generated positive results for Canadians and Canadian business. It has deepened our bilateral relations and expanded trade, investment, and tourism between both countries.”

Since the visa requirement was removed against Mexico, Isherwood said, Canada has welcomed more than two million Mexican visitors and they’ve spent more than $2.4 billion in Canadian hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

Mexican officials said leaders of the three countries met in a summit in Mexico City in January where they reaffirmed their commitment to collaborate on regional migration issues.

“Mexico is working closely with the United States and Canada to achieve safe, orderly and humane migration in the region through a holistic approach that includes addressing its root causes,” the Mexican Embassy in Ottawa said in a statement. 

Mateos is well aware that the political wind can shift at any moment. She just hopes any visa change won’t come before her wedding this August; 20 guests, including her family, are expected from Mexico.

“It’s going to be devastating for me not having my family and friends on my side on this very important day of my life,” she said.

Source: Here’s why the U.S. is pushing Ottawa to require visas from Mexicans

Shia Muslim scholars denied entry into US suspect religious bias

Of note, particularly given that the persons quoted had made frequent trips to the US:

It took the US consulate seven minutes to reject Nabil Ahmed Shabbir’s visa application.

Shabbir, a British Shia scholar, had applied for his US visa to assist with the birth of his first child. His wife, an American Shia Muslim, wanted to have the birth in the US.

Shabbir hadn’t even left the embassy gate after handing in his visa application when he got a text message saying it had been rejected.

Shabbir, whose work has brought him to the US dozens of times prior to this rejection in 2020, did not think obtaining a visa would be an issue.

Instead, he had to watch his firstborn’s birth via WhatsApp video.

Shabbir is one of numerous Shia scholars who have been repeatedly – and unexpectedly – denied entry to the US in the past decade, despite their prior travel to the country for work purposes, raising concerns that they are being deliberately excluded because of their religion.

Despite traveling to the US regularly for five years on a valid 10-year visa, Shabbir was stopped at the airport in 2019 and detained for five hours, facing questions about the intent of his visit.

He was traveling with his wife, but was asked why he had invitations from years ago from American organizations – which fed his suspicion that officials had gone through his email.

He was eventually allowed to enter, but once he returned from the US, he received a notification that his visa had been revoked.

This revocation – unceremonious, without a specific reason and out of the blue – fits a pattern that has been experienced by many Shia scholars.

Mohammad Ali Naquvi, cofounder and chair of the American Muslim Bar Association (AMBA), said his organization has documented denials or revocations of more than 50 Shia scholars in the past decade.

Some were denied entry as they were about to board a US-bound flight, some were denied entry after arriving in the country and forced to turn back despite having a valid visa – and some like Shabbir still remain in a limbo of “administrative processing”.

“It has a burden on the religious practice of Shia Muslims in the US, not being able to have the scholars here,” Abed Ayoub, national executive director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), said. “Not being able to have your religious events because of immigration enforcement is very problematic.”

The issue has been going on for a long time. Sheikh Jihad Ismail, an Australian Shia scholar, was about to board his flight to Albany from Dubai in 2014 when he was told he couldn’t fly into the US. This threw him off, especially because he had visited the US nearly 20 times since 2002, giving talks and engaging with the Shia community in the country. His visa has been under “administrative processing” for six years. According to Naquvi, there are some “administrative processing” cases that go back nine years.

Both Ismail and Shabbir know numerous other scholars going through similar experiences. Ismail recalled the story of a friend who was recently made to return on the next flight after arriving in the US.

Many of these scholars are from English-speaking countries such as the UK, Canada and Australia.

There is no solid reason to which anyone in the community can point to explain why so many Shia scholars have been denied entry, but they say they have their suspicions.

Ayoub traces the issue back to the San Bernardino shooting in 2015, in which the shooters had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

This was followed by the Obama administration passing the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, which disqualified the visa waiver for applicants from 40 countries if they had made any trips to Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen on a government assignment or military order.

This is tricky because Shia pilgrimages, including the ziyarah, take place in Iran and Iraq.

Nearly all Shia scholars have visited or regularly visit these countries, which automatically puts them under scrutiny under the law.

“Because you’re seeing a big number of individuals coming from visa waiver countries, what we believe is happening is the consular officers at the state department are misreading this law,” Ayoub said.

“What they’re doing, in our opinion, is yes, the individual may not qualify for visa waiver, but they’re holding the same standard in even issuing a visa,” he added.

That still doesn’t explain why Ismail was denied the visa in 2014, before the San Bernardino shooting, feeding further confusion among the scholars. It’s clear that there is a pattern that holds true for all these instances, yet nobody can pinpoint the exact issue that would uniformly justify these cases.

This has a grave impact for Shia Americans, especially the current generation.

For a religion with a rich practice of cultural and knowledge exchange across borders, Shabbir said there is an immense value English-speaking scholars have in reaching the current generation, and these visa denials hamper that education.

If scholars like himself aren’t allowed to teach in the US, the other option for such exchange programs is to invite scholars from countries where they may not understand British or American culture, and the culture gap could become a barrier.

“Those young people then find it very difficult to consolidate their faith and the culture they are living in,” he said.

“They see the western culture as something inherently bad, and if they’re going to be religious that means they have to be against western culture,” he added. “Whereas it’s not the case – but they won’t know that until they are presented with a western scholar who has grown up through the system.”

But there are signs of progress. Ayoub said the Trump administration assisted on some individual cases, and activists are now in talks with Biden administration officials who Ayoub said had been “very receptive”.

Those like Shabbir hope the doors open up soon. For him, beyond giving talks as a religious scholar, he misses the opportunity to visit his in-laws, with whom his wife has been staying for a few months to take care of her mother. This means he has to go months without seeing his wife or child.

“It’s not just the visa rejection,” he said. “There’s just so much more that ends up being attached to it.”

Source: Shia Muslim scholars denied entry into US suspect religious bias

Dutrisac: Visas et immigration: y a-t-il un ministre responsable?

Bonne question? Malheureusement, trop d’exemples:

À la fin août de 2022, le ministre fédéral de l’Immigration, Sean Fraser, donnait l’assurance que les inacceptables délais pour la délivrance d’un visa de visiteur au Canada seraient considérablement réduits à compter d’octobre de la même année.

Le ministre faisait valoir que son ministère, Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté Canada (IRCC), embaucherait 1250 nouveaux fonctionnaires afin de régler « d’ici la fin de l’année » les importants arriérés dans la production de visas et de documents relatifs à des demandes d’immigration.

Or, comme l’a rapporté Le Devoir la semaine dernière, les délais pour obtenir un visa n’ont pas diminué ; bien au contraire, ils ont explosé. Entre l’engagement du ministre Fraser et janvier 2023, les délais, tels qu’ils ont été rendus publics par IRCC, se sont allongés pour 179 des 195 pays dont les citoyens doivent se munir d’un visa pour entrer au Canada. Et l’attente est franchement surréaliste. Quelques exemples : un an et demi pour la Tanzanie, au lieu de 64 jours l’été dernier, quelque 500 jours pour le Honduras ou le Nicaragua, alors que l’attente oscillait autour de 80 jours. Rappelons que le délai normal pour la délivrance d’un visa de visiteur par IRCC est de 14 jours.

Les explications du ministère ne sont pas des plus limpides : les fonctionnaires traitent des arriérés qui existent depuis longtemps. Une part de ces phénoménaux arriérés a été constituée pendant la pandémie. Le délai par pays, tel qu’il est affiché sur le site du ministère, dépend du temps qu’il a fallu pour traiter 80 % des demandes dans un intervalle de deux à quatre mois. IRCC a prévenu Le Devoir que ses chiffres « peuvent être faussés par des valeurs aberrantes ». Pas étonnant que des avocats qui assistent des étrangers dans leur démarche se plaignent du manque de fiabilité du tableau colligé par le ministère. Quelles que soient les justifications d’Ottawa, ces délais, tout en reposant sur des données douteuses, sont inadmissibles.

Selon le cabinet du ministre, bien que les chiffres se détériorent, les choses s’améliorent ; la capacité de traitement d’IRCC est passée de 180 000 demandes de visas par mois avant la pandémie à 260 000 en novembre dernier.

Sean Fraser est à la tête d’un ministère dysfonctionnel. À l’heure actuelle, il y a plus de 2 millions de demandes de tout ordre en attente au ministère, que ce soit pour des permis de travail, l’octroi de la résidence permanente, des décisions relatives aux demandeurs d’asile et à leur statut de réfugié, les demandes de visas, etc.

Selon une note de service interne d’IRCC, datée du début de décembre, dont le Globe and Mail a obtenu copie, le ministère est prêt à prendre des mesures draconiennes pour se sortir de ce magma kafkaïen où croupissent plus de 700 000 demandes de visas. Selon une des options envisagées, des exigences d’admissibilité tomberaient : le demandeur n’aurait plus à convaincre un agent d’immigration qu’il retournera dans son pays après son séjour (occuper un emploi, posséder une propriété ou des actifs financiers et avoir de la famille dans son pays d’origine) ni à en fournir des preuves. Seule la vérification relative à la sécurité et à l’absence de casier judiciaire demeurerait. Pour se sortir la tête de l’eau, le ministère est prêt à renoncer à assumer ses responsabilités. C’est tout un aveu d’incurie.

Cette négligence n’est pas sans conséquences. On peut penser aux pertes économiques que subit l’industrie touristique. Mais là n’est pas le plus important. Des milliers d’immigrants ne peuvent pas recevoir la visite de leurs proches restés dans leur pays d’origine. Ou s’ils y arrivent, c’est après des mois et des mois de retard et d’incertitude. Pour un pays qui se veut un modèle d’accueil pour ses immigrants, ce laxisme administratif envoie un mauvais message et nuit à sa réputation sur la scène internationale.

Les échanges culturels sont perturbés, tout comme les rencontres internationales qui se déroulent au Québec. Les conférences et colloques universitaires, qui comptent sur la présence de sommités en provenance de l’étranger, en pâtissent. Comme l’a rapporté Le Devoir, une conférence, organisée par l’Université de Montréal et, de surcroît, subventionnée par le gouvernement fédéral, pourrait être reportée parce que des chercheurs invités ne peuvent obtenir leur visa en temps utile. L’organisateur désespère de voir débarquer à Montréal des experts du Sénégal, du Maroc et du Cameroun. Pour un citoyen sénégalais, le temps d’attente est de 462 jours, confirme IRCC. La situation affecte non seulement les activités de recherche, mais aussi le rayonnement international de l’Université de Montréal, qui se veut l’université francophone la plus influente au monde.

Il existe un principe nommé responsabilité ministérielle : un ministre doit répondre de ses actions (ou de son inaction), mais aussi de celles de ses fonctionnaires. C’est un principe qu’on aurait avantage à se rappeler à Ottawa.

Source: Visas et immigration: y a-t-il un ministre responsable?

Longs délais pour les visas de visiteur malgré les promesses d’Ottawa

Of note, another operational issue:

Quiconque veut venir en visite au Canada pourrait devoir s’armer de patience avant de pouvoir le faire. Alors qu’Ottawa avait promis une réduction du temps de traitement et promettait un retour à la normale à la fin de 2022, Le Devoir a constaté que les délais officiels pour obtenir un visa de visiteur n’ont pas diminué et qu’ils ont, au contraire, explosé.

En six mois, entre juillet 2022 et janvier 2023, les délais affichés ont empiré dans 179 pays sur 195. Dans certains cas, les autorités consulaires canadiennes mettent parfois un an et demi à traiter des demandes de visa, selon les données officielles affichées sur le site d’Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté Canada (IRCC) que Le Devoir a compilées.

« Ce n’est pas juste les délais en ligne qui sont longs, c’est ça aussi dans les faits », affirme Me Léa Charbonneau-Lacroix, avocate associée chez Brunel Immigration et qui traite plusieurs dossiers de visas de visiteur. Celle-ci a déposé des demandes au printemps, à l’été et à l’automne derniers pour des clients. Elle a reçu plusieurs approbations récemment et, « tous pays confondus », les délais étaient de huit ou neuf mois. « Des pays d’Afrique, d’Amérique du Sud, d’un peu partout, détaille-t-elle. Des fois, des gens veulent venir en vacances et ils vont attendre un an pour avoir une décision. C’est un peu irréel. »

En Tanzanie, les délais battent des records. Alors qu’un visa pouvait être obtenu en 64 jours en juillet dernier, il met maintenant dix fois plus de temps à être délivré, soit plus d’un an et demi (611 jours). Au Honduras, alors que le temps d’attente était de 82 jours en juillet, il est passé à 502 jours en janvier. Au Nicaragua, la situation est pratiquement la même, à quelques jours près.

Les délais s’allongent partout, même en Europe. Au Royaume-Uni, les délais sont 22 fois plus longs. Les Britanniques n’ont pas besoin de visa, mais ceux qui ne sont pas citoyens et qui ont besoin d’un visa de visiteur pour le Canada peuvent y déposer une demande. Ils doivent désormais attendre 222 jours, alors qu’un tel visa prenait à peine dix jours à être délivré il y a six mois. En Grèce, un visa qui prenait trois semaines à arriver met maintenant dix fois plus de temps.

Promesse non tenue ?

L’été dernier, à la suite d’une série d’articles du Devoir sur les longs délais de traitement pour les visas de visiteur et les permis de travail, le ministre de l’Immigration, Sean Fraser, avait réitéré l’engagement d’Ottawa de diminuer les délais pour permettre le retour aux normes de service d’ici la fin de l’année.

« On est vraiment proches du pic attendu [de l’attente pour un visa], avait affirmé le ministre Fraser fin août dernier. C’est possible qu’il y ait encore une hausse pendant à peu près un mois, mais on s’attend à ce qu’il y ait ensuite une réduction considérable du temps d’attente pour la délivrance d’un visa de visiteur [ou] pour différentes voies d’immigration. »

Selon le site de l’IRCC, la « norme de service » est un délai de 14 jours pour un visa de visiteur.

« Ce n’est pas ça qui se passe, tranche Me Léa Charbonneau-Lacroix. Nous ne sommes vraiment pas à un retour à la normale, loin de là. »

Une demande déposée par son cabinet en mai pour un client résidant en Côte d’Ivoire, où le délai officiel de traitement est de 518 jours, est toujours en attente. « C’est un dossier avec un certain risque de refus, mais ce n’est pas un dossier problématique. Ce n’est pas quelqu’un avec des antécédents, dit-elle. C’est vraiment étonnant. »

« Avant la pandémie, un bureau de visa qui avait des délais d’un mois, on trouvait ça anormalement long, renchérit-elle. On avait des gens qui voulaient voyager dans trois ou quatre mois et, normalement, on avait une décision avant. Là, il faut qu’une personne s’y prenne un an en avance si elle veut voyager au Canada. »

IRCC s’explique

La pandémie COVID-19 a causé un arriéré important dans le traitement des demandes. Plusieurs demandes datant d’avant la levée des restrictions pour voyager en septembre 2021 n’ont pas été traitées, et le gouvernement fédéral assure avoir embauché les 1250 employés qu’il avait promis pour la fin 2022 afin d’accélérer le traitement.

« Il est également important de noter qu’au fur et à mesure que nous traitons l’arriéré de demandes, les délais de traitement peuvent être faussés par des valeurs aberrantes, en particulier les demandes de notre ancien inventaire qui étaient auparavant en attente pendant une longue période et qui sont maintenant en cours de traitement, écrit IRCC au Devoir. Une fois l’arriéré de ces demandes éliminé, nous commencerons à voir des délais de traitement plus représentatifs de la réalité. »

14 jours 

C’est la « norme de service » pour l’obtention d’un visa de visiteur, selon le site d’IRCC, mais dans plusieurs pays, les délais dépassent 100 jours. 

Le délai par pays est mesuré sur la base du temps qu’il a fallu pour traiter 80 % des demandes déposées au cours des deux à quatre derniers mois.

Le cabinet du ministre Sean Fraser insiste de son côté pour dire qu’il y a eu des « améliorations importantes au cours des derniers mois ». « Sur une base mensuelle, le Canada traite désormais plus de demandes de visas de visiteur qu’avant la pandémie, écrit-on. Rien qu’en novembre 2022, plus de 260 000 visas de visiteur ont été traités. En comparaison, la moyenne mensuelle en 2019 était d’environ 180 000 demandes. »

Délais « de non-traitement »

Cette explication convainc à moitié. La présidente de l’Association des avocats et avocates en immigration, Stéphanie Valois, trouve cet allongement des délais « gênant » pour le gouvernement. « Comment peut-il demander aux gens des tarifs pour le traitement des dossiers alors que manifestement, ce n’est pas traité ? »

Me Denis Girard parle même de « délais de non-traitement ». L’avocat tente depuis le 28 juillet dernier d’aider une mère résidant au Bénin à obtenir un visa de visiteur pour qu’elle puisse venir visiter son fils, un résident permanent. Celle-ci était encore sans nouvelle en date du 29 janvier, soit six mois plus tard. Les délais officiels étaient de 167 jours en septembre l’année dernière. Ils ont ensuite bondi à 209 jours en novembre, pour repasser à 160 jours le 25 janvier.

Me Charbonneau-Lacroix dénonce surtout le manque de fiabilité des délais officiels affichés. « Moi, je dis à mes clients, n’achetez pas de billets d’avion tant que vous n’avez pas de visa dans votre passeport, parce qu’en ce moment, on peut s’attendre à tout et son contraire, lance-t-elle. C’est un peu embêtant pour les personnes qui veulent organiser un voyage, visiter leur famille. Ils ne peuvent se fier à rien de tangible. »

Source: Longs délais pour les visas de visiteur malgré les promesses d’Ottawa

Immigration department finds no fault in Montreal AIDS summit visa debacle as another conference looms

Might help communications if IRCC would be more forthcoming with more data on the reasons for refusals, not stating the general reasons. Likely the systemic issue is concern that some attendees may file refugee claims or overstay, and the economic disparities between some of the countries or origin and Canada:

With Canada set to host a major international summit next month, advocates are warning about a possible repeat of issues that prevented some African delegates from attending a conference in Montreal over the summer, leading to allegations that the federal immigration department’s policies are racist.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said it found no fault in its handling of visa applications for the International AIDS Society conference last July. A number of delegates from Africa were either denied visas or were still waiting for a response by the time the conference got underway.

“The whole system is designed to exclude people,” said Madhukar Pai, the Canada Research Chair in translational epidemiology and global health at McGill University in Montreal.

Next month, Montreal is hosting a United Nations conference on biodiversity loss, stoking worries that delegates from the regions most impacted by declining species will be stuck at home.

“There is something about our governmental system that is, what I call anti-Africa or anti-Black, and that worries me a lot,” said Pai.

For years, Pai has attended conferences where his African colleagues have had more difficulty getting visas than his peers from Latin America and Asia.

It’s an issue he’s seen at events hosted in the U.S., Britain and Canada, and one he was particularly concerned about this spring as Ottawa struggled to process everything from refugee applications to passport renewals.

“I don’t know whether the government has genuinely learned much from the AIDS conference fiasco,” Pai said.

“The anger was so palpable, to have all those empty chairs of African delegates missing; it was egregious…I worry about any international conference that is being held in any part of Canada these days.”

The immigration department doesn’t share Pai’s concern.

“IRCC is using all the tools available at its disposal to facilitate the processing of thousands of visa applications in a short period of time,” spokesman Jeffrey MacDonald said in a written statement.

The department says it has a special events unit that works with conference hosts to try and ensure that visa offices abroad have a list of people who have registered for an event. People also use a special code when applying so that their applications are prioritized.

“IRCC works closely with the Canada Border Services Agency and event organizers to ensure the application process and immigration and entry requirements are understood, so that visa applications are processed in a timely manner and admission for participants can go smoothly,” MacDonald wrote.

The department suggested that people invited to this summer’s conference might have botched their applications.

“Waiting too long to apply, or omitting the special event code, may result in their application not being processed in time for the start of the event,” MacDonald wrote, adding that the department won’t get into specifics of the July event due to privacy legislation.

“There are always compelling reasons some individuals are not allowed to enter Canada.”

Issue is ‘systemic’, not technical, gender and health expert says

Lauren Dobson-Hughes, a consultant specializing in global health and gender, said Canada and other Western countries need to look beyond technical fixes and recognize “a much broader pattern” at these summits.

“It is a systemic issue across the world, where we tend to be divided into the Global North donors who host conferences, and the Global South who live these issues and should have ownership of them — and yet the conferences that are about them are not done with them.”

Dobson-Hughes recalled summits in 2016 and 2019 where African delegates had invitation letters on Government of Canada letterhead, but could not actually get a visa.

“I can’t imagine Global Affairs Canada is particularly delighted that they build respectful, meaningful relationships on a personal basis with colleagues in Africa, for example, only to have their own government turn around and deny them a visa,” she said.

“I have not seen anything that gives a sense that they [IRCC officials] have grappled with the sense of the problem as particularly African participants perceive it.”

Source: Immigration department finds no fault in Montreal AIDS summit visa debacle as another conference looms

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