Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to speak to the committee about visa processing in Nairobi. As you know, my name is Michael Boekhoven, and I am the immigration program manager in Nairobi. I'm joined on the line by Taitu Deguefé, my operations manager, and Liisa Coulombe, who is the head of our permanent resident processing unit.
Before talking about specific aspects of Nairobi's visa programs, I'd like to give the committee a brief contextual overview. Nairobi's is a full-service immigration program responsible for 18 countries. Of those countries, the most significant volumes come from Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Mauritius. But in terms of time spent on processing due to the complexity of the cases, Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi constitute the bulk of the work.
The size and geographical realities of the territory covered, ongoing strife within and between countries, the complex interweaving of national, ethnic, and tribal relations, the vastly differing legal frameworks and cultural contexts, and the poor and deteriorating quality of infrastructure throughout the region make the simplest processing tasks problematic, and all contribute to making Nairobi a very challenging program on every front.
Postal and related communications systems are so rudimentary or unreliable that it is difficult to establish and maintain contact with applicants. The relative lack of sophistication of our clientele requires repeated and numerous efforts to request information or even to come for an interview. Travel within the region is arduous and often dangerous.
Nairobi is staffed by twelve Canadian officers, which includes two Canada Border Services Agency officers and one medical officer. There are three locally engaged officers with decision-making authority, and 33 other locally engaged support staff, or LES.
The program has been supported by a constant rotation of temporary duty officers and between four and six emergency LES. Nairobi is also supported by LES in Addis Ababa and in Kinshasa and by staff in other offices such as the Canadian consulate in Kigali and in offices of the honorary consulates in Kampala, Burundi, Djibouti, and Madagascar.
Nairobi relies extensively on support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in a number of locations. Personal security for both Canada-based and locally engaged staff is an area of ongoing concern. Nairobi is itself subject to increasing political, ethnic, and crime-related violence. This has a direct impact on efficiencies within the office where issues of personal safety take priority—for example, overtime after dark is not a viable option.
In 2010 Nairobi processed more than 1,800 family class cases, nearly 1,400 refugee cases, approximately 500 skilled worker cases, and about 11,700 applications from visitors, students, and temporary workers. Included in the family class are dependants of refugee claimants in Canada; and in the refugee program, dependants of refugees whose family members were landed without them.
Now I will turn to the various business lines. First of all, I'll speak about the family class. In general, our clientele is not familiar with procedure; given the unreliable nature of official record-keeping, lack of documentation and improperly completed applications are constant sources of inefficiency. This is made more challenging, as already mentioned, because our applicants are often in remote locations where there are real difficulties in communications.
Nairobi met its full priority family class target for 2010, and the capacity for the office to deal with these cases continues to improve. For 2011 we expect to issue an additional 200 visas over the number issued last year.
Although family class priority application intake is down again in 2010 over 2009, the overall inventory totals over 2,140 cases. In 2010 the processing times peaked at 29 months.
To address these processing times, Nairobi has undertaken a number of initiatives. They include a major reorganization of the entire visa section, which was completed in 2010; upfront file triage; focused reallocation of resources; and deployment of significant incremental and temporary resources.
Nairobi is unable to waive more than 50% of cases, due in part to the lack of documentation and the propensity of applicants to add dependants who are not their biological children. This leads, of course, to a disparity between processing times for waived cases and cases requiring interview, especially for those who are not readily accessible.
Another recent trend has been the substantial growth in the number of adoption cases handled by Nairobi, largely out of Ethiopia. Although there is growing interest in adoptions from Uganda, a country where the legal framework is in flux, since neither country has signed the Hague convention on adoption, and since the majority of children being adopted have at least one living biological parent, a great deal of caution has to be exercised. Although there are relatively few of these adoption cases, they take an inordinate amount of visa office time and resources to deal with.
Included in the family class are the dependants of persons who have made refugee claims in Canada. These cases are especially challenging, since applications are rarely complete and the dependants are difficult to reach.
With respect to refugees, Nairobi's area of responsibility is a major source of refugees. In 2010 the visa office managed a government-assisted refugee target of 1,465 and a privately sponsored refugee target of 700 persons. The conflicts that have generated this refugee situation have also resulted in a pool of applicants that may include war criminals and other security threats. For these reasons, applications must be thoroughly reviewed, and the vast majority have to be interviewed. However, interviewing is extremely onerous, given the difficulty in travelling to remote camps.
There is also considerable fraud within the privately sponsored refugee movement. Supporting documentation is often suspect or fraudulent, and the proportion of cases not resulting in visa issue has reached close to 50% for 2010. DNA is used frequently to establish family relationships. Nairobi has done considerable outreach with the sponsorship agreement holders to increase both the scrutiny of the applicants they put forward and the supporting documentation.
With respect to the economic class, compared to missions in Asia, Nairobi has a much smaller inventory of skilled workers. By far the largest part of this movement is for Quebec skilled workers, which had a target in 2010 of 935 visas compared to the total target of 230 for federal cases. The majority of Quebec cases come from Mauritius and are relatively straightforward.
Nairobi's provincial nominee program has seen some growth, especially from Alberta and Manitoba, but the inventory is small. It is around 80 cases.
Although Nairobi's investor program is also very small, processing times are lengthy given that documentation is dubious and verification of documents is difficult, if not impossible.
With respect to temporary residents, students, and temporary foreign workers, despite the global economic downturn, Nairobi's temporary resident volumes continue to climb. The number of applications received by our office in June 2010 broke all previous records. With corruption endemic in the region, document verification has repeatedly been shown to be unreliable, and civil documentation is extremely susceptible to improper issue.
As a result, few documents can be taken at face value. This office frequently has to take the time-consuming step of confirming details with Canadian hosts, businesses, or schools.
Many applicants, including senior government officials, from our region are inadmissible—for activities ranging from genocide to subversion—a factor that complicates both bilateral and multilateral relations.
Thank you for your attention. I would be happy to take any questions the committee may have.