Ongoing immigration delays leave more than a million waiting to become citizens and permanent residents

Saskatoon

Canada had a backlog of more than 1.8 million immigration applications as of Feb. 1, including 519,030 permanent residence and 448,000 Canadian citizenship applications, according to IRCC data. Some have been waiting for four years to get their citizenship.

A newly-landed refugee waves a Canada flag outside St. John's International Airport.(Submitted by Ritchie Perez/Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada)

Deepak Talwar spent thousands of dollars and two years trying to get permanent residency in Canada, but he's only received boilerplate responses from the government's immigration department and he said he feels betrayed.

The Saskatoon resident is still waiting for his permanent residency (PR) application to make its way through Canada's backed-up immigration system since he last spoke to CBC News in December.

"I committed close to $550,000 to invest in Saskatchewan. I sold my properties back in India … with a hope I'll be in Canada and it'll be worth it," Talwar said.

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

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

He's not alone.

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

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

  • 848,598 temporary residence applications.

  • 448,000 Canadian citizenship applications.

In the meantime, Talwar, who owns a cabinet-manufacturing business in Saskatoon, said his work permit expired, even though he applied for an extension on Nov. 2.

"Work permit extension applications take 133 days as per their website. That also expired on March 15," he said, adding his driver's license is only valid until March 31.

"I liquidated all my assets in India to come here, giving jobs to people and investing in the Canadian economy. Is this the treatment I deserve? Had I known about these delays and reality, I'd have never taken the decision."

The above graphic shows the difference in IRCC's backlog between October 7, 2021 and Feb. this year. There are presently 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 hasn't seen his wife and four kids in Nigeria for more than three years now.

It's been more than a year since Okpara applied for his PR, and he said he hasn't been able to speak with anyone at IRCC.

"I've missed three birthdays," he said. "What should I say when they ask: 'Daddy, when are we coming over?' I tell them, soon."

Samson Okpara has not seen his wife and four kids for three years now and said he's missed out on their childhoods.(Submitted by Samson Okpara)

His attempts to bring his family to Canada have also been in vain. Okpara said he saw his youngest son, who was hardly a few months old when he left, walk and grow over video calls.

Okapara's work permit is about to expire and he is awaiting an extension.

"IRCC says you can work under implied status but most employers don't allow you to work as your SIN expires, since it's linked with work permit."

'Delays have ruined us mentally'

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

The 39-year-old submitted her application for citizenship on March 22, 2018. Her background check and other eligibility criteria were met three years ago. She has been told by the IRCC that "there are no red flags" in her file.

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

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

"My sister got very sick after experiencing a heart attack. I sent in an emergency request for my case, literally using the word 'begging' in my web-form," Tale said as her PR card expired during the wait.

She received a template response from an IRCC agent over email which "was even more general than the automatic replies."

Tale's sister had a heart failure on Jan. 26 and she could not visit her.

"She wanted to hug me and hold my son. I haven't got closure, I am having high anxiety issues and taking counselling sessions," Tale said with tears in her eyes. "We love this country and are more citizens towards it than anyone else. I feel betrayed and have lost faith in this country."

Azabelle Tale bought this red and white outfit for her oath ceremony four years ago but hasn't been able to wear it yet.(Submitted by Azabelle Tale)

Seeing 2021 applications getting processed faster than hers leaves Tale with many unanswered questions. She holds the IRCC officer working on her profile accountable for her state.

Tale's mother is hospitalized in Iran and she feels powerless in her situation.

"I keep thinking, what if my family members die before I get to see them. My counsellor says it's because I have been traumatized," she said.

"I'm devastated. These delays have mentally ruined me. I don't know if IRCC cares."

Sareh-Sadat Mirzaei-Ghomi understands that frustration firsthand.

She submitted her application for citizenship on Dec. 4, 2017. She passed her exam and interview on April 11, 2018. Like Tale, she is waiting to get invited for her oath ceremony.

"I have emailed, called, tweeted and sent web-forms for years and I get told that everything is OK, be patient," Mirzaei-Ghomi said.

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 advancement and considers the system "very unfair" for processing applications from 2021 before hers.

"There have been times I have called IRCC every week but no reason has been provided for delay. I can't sit waiting."

Tale and Mirzaei-Ghomi are among 138 Iranian citizens across Canada who are waiting for their citizenship or PR renewal applications. CBC spoke to a few from the group who have also reached out to the offices of both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Immigration Minister Sean Fraser.

<a href="https://twitter.com/JustinTrudeau?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JustinTrudeau</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/SeanFraserMP?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@SeanFraserMP</a> <br>I wonder to know what the reason is for unexplained delay on processing my citizenship application.I have been<br>waiting 4years and half from December2017 to take my oaths to become Canadian citizens.This long process is really annoying and very unfair

&mdash;@sarehmirzaeii

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

"IRCC has been moving towards a more integrated, modernized and centralized working environment in order to help speed up application processing globally," the department said in a statement.

"In the Economic and Fiscal Update 2021, the Government of Canada proposed to provide new funding of $85 million in 2022-23. These funds will support additional staff, allowing us to return to service standards for study and work permits and permanent resident card renewals by the end of this year, and to welcome people who can help address Canada's labour shortages."

2019 citizenship applications still in queue

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

During this time, Mikhael's father in the United States developed an inflammation in his eyes and the 35-year-old could not visit.

"The processing times on IRCC's website are not valid. The time frames are not being met, where is the accountability," he asked.

"I need to travel. I'm frustrated."

Mikhael's sister who was in a high-risk pregnancy was left to take care of their parents. He said even though his U.S. visa was accepted, he couldn't travel because his Egyptian passport was due to expire in less than six months.

"It has been three years since I've seen my sister. I sent all medical reports of my father to IRCC but to no avail."

He feels frustrated seeing people resume international travel when he "can't see his family, just south of the border."

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

Toronto-based Ramin Barari's application has not made much progress since Dec. 3, 2019 when he passed the citizenship test.

"I am required to visit a Florida facility for training, which is a requirement for my job, but I can't travel," said Barari, who works as project engineer at DHL Express.

"Each day IRCC mentions the time range of applications they are processing, like it was November 2019 applications this week. Mine was before that, but still unprocessed. It seems like they don't follow their own dates."

CBC spoke with applicants from 2019 who raised similar questions.

Inequities exist but so does room for improvement: experts

"Despite government efforts to actually reduce the backlog, they are still increasing," said Lou Janssen Dangzalan, an immigration lawyer 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 streams between October 2021 and Feb. 1.

Lou Janssen Dangzalan said IRCC is arbitrary with its processing times and the conception that immigration is 'first come, first serve' is a myth.(Submitted by John Hryniuk)

Canada's latest announcement to accept an unlimited number of Ukrainian citizens for temporary residence might add to the existing backlog.

"We're talking about millions of Ukrainian citizens who are displaced. Even by absorbing let's say 10 per cent, it would be 100,000 per million when there are close to three million. There definitely will be an impact," he said.

"First come, first serve is a myth."

Dangzalan mentioned individual processing centres for citizenship also have an impact since the "Ottawa office is relatively faster than Scarborough".

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

Tao experienced it firsthand as it took almost 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 being used for the new portal for Ukraine will better streamline the process."

Tao said inequities seem to disproportionately affect people from the southern hemisphere.

He said there is a glimmer of hope as the government has started to automate the process.

"IRCC has technological capabilities to expedite the process. Once they expand them, they'll need to ensure that those systems have proper oversight and not reinforce the biases from yesterday."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pratyush Dayal is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon. He has previously written for the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun, the Province and the Tyee. He holds a Master of Journalism degree from UBC and can be reached at pratyush.dayal@cbc.ca

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