Ongoing immigration delays keep nearly a million people waiting to become citizens and permanent residents

Deepak Talwar has spent thousands of dollars and two years trying to get permanent residency in Canada but has only received canned responses from the government’s immigration service and said he feels betrayed.

The Saskatoon resident is still awaiting his permanent residency (PR) application to make his way through Canada’s backup immigration system since he last spoke to CBC News in December.

“I’ve pledged nearly $550,000 to invest in Saskatchewan. I’ve sold my properties back in India…with the hopes that I’ll be in Canada and it’ll be worth it,” Talwar said.

“I thought that by December 2020 I would be a Canadian citizen, then I would have 10 years to explore this beautiful country,” said the 51-year-old. “I never expected to face these problems in the last phase of my life.”

Deepak Talwar is frustrated by the delays in obtaining permanent residency. (Submitted by Deepak Talwar)

He is not alone.

According to data received from the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the country had a backlog of more than 1.8 million immigration applications as of Feb. 1, including:

  • 519,030 applications for permanent residence, including 158,778 refugee applications.

  • 848,598 applications for temporary residence.

  • 448,000 Canadian Citizenship Applications.

In the meantime, Talwar, who owns a cabinet factory in Saskatoon, said his work permit has expired, although he filed for an extension on Nov. 2.

“Applications for work permit extensions take 133 days according to their website. That also expired on March 15,” he said, adding that his driver’s license is only valid until March 31.

“I have liquidated all my assets in India to come here, give people jobs and invest in the Canadian economy. Is this the treatment I deserve? If I had known about these delays and the reality, I would never have had the Made a decision.”

The chart above shows the difference in IRCC’s backlog between October 7, 2021 and February this year. There are currently more than 1.8 million immigration applications in their inventory. (CBC news)

On the east coast, Fredericton resident Samson Okpara is also in limbo. He has not seen his wife and four children in Nigeria for more than three years.

It has been over a year since Okpara applied for his PR and he said he has not been able to talk to anyone at IRCC.

“I missed three birthdays,” he said. “What should I say when they ask, ‘Daddy, when are we coming over?’ I’ll tell them soon.”

Samson Okpara has not seen his wife and four children in three years and says he has missed their childhood. (Submitted by Samson Okpara)

His efforts to bring his family to Canada have also been unsuccessful. Okpara said he watched his youngest son, who was barely a few months old when he left, walk and grow during video calls.

Okpara’s work permit expires and he is waiting for an extension.

“IRCC says you can work under an implied status, but most employers won’t allow you to work if your SIN expires because it’s tied to a work permit.”

‘Delays have ruined us mentally’

Azabelle Tale was a doctor in Tehran, Iran, before moving to Toronto with her husband in February 2015.

The 39-year-old filed her citizenship application on March 22, 2018. Three years ago, her background check and other eligibility criteria were met. The IRCC has told her that “there are no red flags” in her file.

Azabelle Tale has not been able to visit her family in Iran because of the ongoing delays. (Submitted by Azabelle Tale)

She bought a red and white outfit and a necklace with a Canadian flag on it almost four years ago for her swearing-in ceremony. But her sense of joy is lost.

“My sister became very ill after a heart attack. I sent an emergency request for my case, literally with the word ‘beg’ in my web form,” Tale said as her PR card expired while waiting.

She received a template response via email from an IRCC agent that was “even more general than the automatic replies.”

Tale’s sister suffered a heart failure on January 26 and was unable to visit her.

“She wanted to hug me and hold my son. I don’t have closure, I have a lot of anxiety problems and go to counseling sessions,” Tale said with tears in her eyes. “We love this country and are citizens more than anyone else. I feel betrayed and have lost faith in this country.”

Azabelle Tale bought this red and white outfit for her swearing-in four years ago, but hasn’t been able to wear it yet. (Submitted by Azabelle Tale)

As 2021 applications are being processed faster than hers, Tale is left with many unanswered questions. She holds the IRCC officer working on her profile accountable to her state.

Tale’s mother is in hospital in Iran and feels powerless in her situation.

“I keep thinking, what if my relatives die before I see them. My counselor says it’s because I’m traumatized,” she said.

“I’m devastated. These delays have ruined me mentally. I don’t know if the IRCC cares.”

VIEW | Stuck in limbo:

Ongoing immigration delays leave many in uncertainty

Azabelle Tale has been waiting for a response to her citizenship application for nearly four years. During this time, Azabelle lost her sister and couldn’t even travel to her funeral because her permanent residency had expired and citizenship was pending. Now her mother is in the hospital and Tale struggles with fear and frustration about her situation. 4:32

Sareh-Sadat Mirzaei-Ghomi understands that frustration firsthand.

She applied for citizenship on December 4, 2017. She passed her exam and interview on April 11, 2018. Like Tale, she is waiting to be invited to take her oath.

“I’ve emailed, called, tweeted and sent web forms for years and I’m told everything is fine, be patient,” said Mirzaei-Ghomi.

Sareh-Sadat Mirzaei-Ghomi said she has been calling, emailing and submitting forms to IRCC since December 2017, only to receive template responses. (Submitted by Sareh-Sadat Mirzaei-Ghomi)

The Montreal resident said it has negatively impacted her career progression and considers the system “highly unfair” for processing applications from 2021 ahead of hers.

“There have been times when I have called IRCC every week, but no reason has been given for delay. I can’t wait.”

Tale and Mirzaei-Ghomi are among 138 Iranian citizens across Canada awaiting their citizenship or PR renewal applications. CBC spoke to some of the group who have also contacted the offices of both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Immigration Secretary Sean Fraser.

In an email, IRCC acknowledged the ongoing delays and said it has been improving technology and digitizing its operations to reduce processing times.

“IRCC is moving towards a more integrated, modernized and centralized work environment to accelerate application processing worldwide,” the department said in a statement.

“In the 2021 Economic and Fiscal Update, the Government of Canada proposed to provide new funding of $85 million in 2022-23. These funds will support additional staff, enabling us to return to service standards for study and work permits and renewals. of permanent resident cards by the end of this year, and to welcome people who can help address the labor shortage in Canada.”

2019 Citizenship Applications Still Queuing

Shenouda Mikhael, who lives in Burlington, about 60 km southwest of Toronto, has been waiting for his citizenship for over 28 months, which was received by the IRCC in October 2019.

During this time, Mikhael’s father in the United States developed inflammation in his eye, and the 35-year-old was unable to visit.

“The processing times on the IRCC website are not valid. The deadlines are not met, where is the responsibility”, he asked.

‘I have to travel. I’m frustrated.’

Mikhael’s sister who had a risky pregnancy had to take care of their parents. He said that although his US visa was accepted, he could not travel because his Egyptian passport was due to expire in less than six months.

“It’s been three years since I saw my sister. I sent all of my father’s medical reports to the IRCC, but to no avail.”

He feels frustrated when he sees people traveling internationally again when he ‘cannot see his family, just south of the border’.

Ramin Barari said that while he is waiting for his citizenship since 2019, he has missed career opportunities. It also took him almost 18 months to get his wife to Canada. (Submitted by Ramin Barari)

Toronto-based Ramin Barari’s application has not progressed much since December 3, 2019, when he passed the citizenship test.

“I have to visit a training center in Florida, which is a requirement for my job, but I can’t travel,” said Barari, who works as a project engineer at DHL Express.

“Every day, the IRCC lists the time ranges of applications they are processing, as if they were this week’s November 2019 applications. Mine was before that, but still not processed. It seems like they don’t track their own dates.”

CBC spoke to 2019 job applicants who asked similar questions.

There are inequalities, but there is also room for improvement: experts

“Despite the government’s efforts to actually reduce the backlog, they are still increasing,” said Lou Janssen Dangzalan, an immigration attorney in Toronto.

Dangzalan said the demand for temporary to permanent residence is high. IRCC saw an increase of 72,857 applications in its temporary residence flows between October 2021 and February 1.

Lou Janssen Dangzalan said the IRCC is arbitrary with its processing times and that the idea that immigration is “first come, first served” is a myth. (Submitted by John Hryniuk)

Canada’s latest announcement to accept an unlimited number of Ukrainian nationals for temporary residence could widen the existing backlog.

“We are talking about millions of Ukrainian citizens who have been displaced. Even if we include say 10 percent, it would be 100,000 per million when there are close to three million. There will definitely be an impact,” he said.

“First come, first served is a myth.”

Dangzalan said individual citizenship processing centers are also having an impact, as the “Ottawa office is relatively faster than Scarborough”.

Will Tao, a British Columbia-based immigration and refugee attorney, agreed. His clients applying for citizenship have also faced delays.

Tao experienced it firsthand, as it took nearly two years for his partner to get her citizenship.

“To say there will be no impact on the backlog is not true, but it gives me hope that advanced analytics and AI used for the new portal for Ukraine will better streamline the process.”

Tao said that inequality seems to disproportionately affect people of the southern hemisphere.

He said there is a glimmer of hope now that the government has begun to automate the process.

“IRCC has technology capabilities to speed up the process. Once they expand it, they need to make sure those systems are properly overseeing and not reinforcing yesterday’s biases.”

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