Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting me.
My name is Anabela Nunes, and I'm a settlement counsellor at Working Women Community Centre. Part of my role as a settlement counsellor is to provide accurate and up-to-date information regarding various immigration programs to anyone who seeks this type of service.
For the past five years, our centre has seen an increase in the number of people looking for assistance with the family reunification program. It is important to clarify that we do not provide legal advice to our clients. Our role is simply to guide them through the process and review applications for their completeness, in order to prevent applications being returned and to avoid further delays in processing times.
For anyone who has not gone through the process of sponsoring a family member, I can say that it can be a daunting and challenging experience, given all the requirements, eligibility criteria, and constant changes. The amount of paperwork involved in one of these applications is substantial, and the information on the IRCC website can be overwhelming.
My objective today is to highlight some of the challenges my clients have encountered when submitting requests and applications, and share professional observations dealing with the various immigration forms.
I would like to start off by talking about the processing of sponsorship of dependent children and adopted children. It should be a priority for this government. The current age of 18 as a cutoff age to be sponsored should be eliminated and increased to the age of 22, as it was a few years back. Children 19 to 22 years old are still greatly financially dependent on their parents. Many of our clients see that the current policy separates families and forces parents to leave the children behind either on their own or with family members.
In addition, given the fact that children under the age of 18 do not have to provide criminal records, the processing of these applications could be much quicker and straightforward, but in reality, it's taking 12 months or more to have them finalized.
In terms of the two-year conditional permanent residence currently in place, it is unfair and forces people to remain in relationships where they are vulnerable and at the mercy of an abusive sponsor.
We are familiar with some of the exceptions under this policy; however, if there is emotional or psychological abuse, many applicants tend to remain in the relationship for fear of their PR being revoked. We have encountered clients who are too afraid to call and make a report to the police. Police involvement can be a very traumatic experience, and if children are involved, there is the added fear that the Children's Aid Society will be called in.
Another issue is that submitting a sponsorship request does not confer any status in Canada. This forces people to keep renewing either their visitor visas or student permits, spending more money on fees, and applicants who are out of legal status can be deported at any time and have their applications cancelled.
It should be considered that, once a sponsorship has been submitted, all applicants should be given implied status. They should not be living under the constant threat of being separated from their spouse or partner.
Open work permits are another issue. They are being issued within three to four months after application submission, which is great. However, they are only issued to people who have legal status in the country.
It is a well-known fact that many employers hire people with no status, but there are no protections afforded to these people. IRCC should consider that, given the reality, all should be given the opportunity to work legally and contribute to the Canadian economy without any fear of being caught by border services during the processing of their application, regardless of their current status.
Another complaint from our clients is with respect to the call centre. Our experience is also that the IRCC call centre seems unable to provide consistent and accurate information. It is common to get different answers to the same question from different call centre staff.
The online status verification is also ineffective. Information is not updated on a regular basis, and it is difficult for clients to update any personal information. Emails are usually sent via webmail, but confirmation that the information was received is often not sent to the client.
In terms of the actual immigration forms, some of the validated forms are regularly updated and changed by IRCC. This causes applications that were submitted four months prior to be returned to the sponsor for resubmission on updated forms. These can be lost in the process because they are sent to clients by regular mail, and fail to reach them. This can be very problematic because some of the documents, especially criminal records, have to be re-requested from the country of origin and translated again, at significant cost, and new original supporting documents have to be resubmitted as well. If information needs to be updated, the request should be sent in an email or letter requesting the specific form rather than returning the full package.
Fee payment is another obstacle for clients. Payment can only be done online with a credit card, and not everybody has credit cards and having to ask someone to borrow their credit card is not always an option.
Emails are sometimes sent requesting additional information of clients but some clients never receive the requests, due to incorrect email addresses, etc. This results in the cancellation of the application. Some of these may have been in process for two years or more.
We would like to put some recommendations on the table.
Members of Parliament play a very important role in the immigration process and it should be part of their role to facilitate communication exchange between clients and IRCC. We do refer some clients to their local MPs, and with their involvement they were often able to have a positive impact in the application processing times.
Overseas visa offices should be working closely together with the processing centre in Canada. They could, for example, start the background checks on the application while reviewing or completing the sponsor eligibility stage. This would reduce wait times.
Additional processing offices should be set up, such as the one in Ottawa. Applications being processed in the Ottawa office are being finalized in four to five months compared to 10 to 14 months overseas.
The two-year conditional permanent residence should be eliminated. If there is a report of marriage fraud then IRCC should start an investigation by interviewing both parties involved in order to reach a fair decision.
Emails requesting additional information should be followed by a written letter in order to ensure the client receives it. What is at stake is too important to leave to vulnerable email accounts.
There should better communication between border services and IRCC, and they should expedite the processing of applications under deportation orders.
The government, in our opinion, should also consider allowing the sponsorship of siblings.
Finally, multiple options for the payment of processing fees should be available.