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Damascus Newsletter

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Our first newsletter was circulated over one year ago (in May/June of 1 997). Our original desire to produce newsletters on a quarterly basis fell victim to significant increases in the workload here in Damascus.

INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this edition of the newsletter will, in part, be to inform you as to the impact that this increase in work has had on our operations. As well, several items dealt with in the original newsletter will be updated and some additional matters will be discussed.

CURRENT PROCESSING ENVIRONMENT This office has been experiencing an exponential increase in the volume of applications submitted here. Some comparative statistics may help underline the significance of this increase in volume:

– as of April 1, 1 996, we had 3000 applications in process; – as of April 1, 1 997, we had 4400 applications in process; – to date in 1998 we have 7500+ applications in process.

Many applicants and their agents have expressed frustration (understandably) over the delays that they are experiencing before interviews are scheduled or in obtaining replies to their inquiries. We must ask that you bear in mind the degree to which our workload has increased.

Some recognition of this workload has occurred as we have been allocated an additional Canadian officer, who will be taking up her duties this summer. in addition two locally engaged support staff have been added to our complement. It is hoped that these additional resources will help to alleviate the pressure caused by the increase in our volume of work. It should be noted, however, that the impact of these new resources will not be felt until the fall of this year. And, even with these new resources, substantial decreases in our processing times cannot be expected (certainly in the short to medium term). We would ask that all of our clients please bear with us over the next few months as our new resources come on-line. Aside from the increase in our workload, Damascus, like most other visa offices, must cope with the summer period involving as it does absence of staff on leave and the coming and going of our Foreign Service Officers over the course of the summer posting season.

SUBMITTING AN IMMIGRANT APPLICATION

It is of critical importance to understand that, while we will accept any application upon submission of properly completed application forms and the proper immigration cost recovery fee, applications will be delayed if sufficient documentation is not submitted which permits a proper initial assessment of the application.

All immigration applications go through a paper screening stage. At this stage an initial assessment is carried out based upon the relevant requirements of the immigration category applicable. All applications should include sufficient supporting documentation to permit this initial assessment to be carried out. For example, an Independent/Skilled Worker applicant would be expected to submit the relevant letters of reference and documents concerning his/her education and qualifications to permit the appropriate points for occupation, education and experience to be awarded. Similarly, business applicants would be expected to submit sufficient documentation to confirm that they have business experience and financial resources. With the exception of the police certificate requirement, photocopies are acceptable for this purpose. Visa officers may request originals at the time a selection decision is taken.

An additional but no less important point is that it is up to applicants to identify which immigration category they wish to be assessed under. We will not consider applications requesting assessment under several different immigration categories. This applies to the three business immigration categories. An applicant must identify whether he/she wishes to be assessed as an entrepreneur, an investor or as a self-employed person. And, for entrepreneurs and self-3mployed persons, it is in addition necessary that the applicant identify what business he/she intends to become involved with in Canada. Persons applying as independent/skilled worker applicants can of course request assessment under alternative occupational classifications, but such applicants must identify what occupation or occupations they wish to be assessed under.

As noted, if such documentation is not received, or if the immigration category or occupation under which the application is to be assessed is not clearly identified, the application cannot be paper-screened and the completion of this stage of the assessment would be delayed. A request would be sent to the applicant or his/her agent requesting that the missing information be provided.

It is important to note that any estimate we make with respect to processing times does not apply to applications which are delayed in this way. Given the communication realities in this region, these requests for additional information can add weeks if not months to the overall processing time for an application. The onus is on applicants and their agents to provide this information at the time of application, or risk facing this additional delay.

CORRESPONDENCE/USE OF COURIER SERVICES

This office will use as the contact address for all communication, whatever mailing address is provided by the applicant on his/her application form. This means that, where an applicant provides the Canadian address for his/her agent, correspondence and documents (including immigrant visas) will be sent to that address. One exception to this approach is with respect to notifying applicants resident in Iran as to the date of interview. Due to communications difficulties, our experience has led us to the conclusion that the most efficient mechanism to notify these clients of their interview is by having the Canadian embassy in Tehran contact them directly. We make every effort to also notify agents by fax of the date and time of interview.

It must be noted that, given the unreliability of the local mail system, all documents which are sent to Canada will go via diplomatic bag. This means that correspondence can take a number of weeks before it will be received. One alternative is the use of commercial courier services. While this is possible, please note the following requirements which exist at this office with respect to the use of commercial courier services:

– the Canadian Embassy, Damascus, will not be in any way liable for the costs; – we will only forward correspondence/documents if pre-paid courier invoices have been provided in advance.

As a final note, it is important for all persons acting as agents for applicants to bear in mind that our duty is primarily to the applicant. That is to say, if this office is instructed by the applicant to forward correspondence or documents directly to the applicant him or herself rather than an agent, we will do so. This applies particularly to situations involving short validity visa documents.

ROLF REFUNDS

Information as to how ROLF (right of landing fee) refunds are dealt with by this office and by our satellite offices was provided in our previous newsletter. The variations in approach are reflective of the banking systems available in each country. In terms of how and where ROLF refunds can be issued, the following points are important to note:

3 Syria and Out of Region Residents:

-As a result of the current banking system in Syria, the Canadian Embassy in Damascus is not in a position to issue or mail ROLF refund cheques. All refunds issued by this office must be issued in cash. Where payment was originally made in US dollars or Syrian pounds the refund will be issued in the same currency as it was paid. However, where the payment was originally made in Canadian dollars, the refund will be issued in equivalent US dollars based on the current exchange rate.

-ROLF refunds can be obtained in person on the last Thursday of the month between 9:00-1 2:00 from the Canadian Embassy in Damascus,Syria. In order to obtain the refund, please bring the original refusal letter, receipt and personal identification;

-written authorization can also be given to another person to obtain a refund on your behalf. They should go to the Canadian Embassy on the last Thursday of the month, as stated above. To obtain the refund they should bring the signed, written authorization, original refusal letter, receipt and personal identification;

-for residents of Jordan and the Gulf, the Canadian Embassy in Amman, Jordan, may be able to mail ROLF refund cheques on our behalf. Please note that as a result of banking limitations, these refund cheques will be issued in Jordanian Dinar. Note that where payment was originally made in another currency, the equivalent amount in Jordanian Dinar will be calculated based on current exchange rates, rather than the rate applicable at time of payment.

-alternatively, it may be possible to make arrangements with a Canadian Embassy in the area in which you reside to issue a refund on our behalf. Please note, however, that as a result of regional variances, not all Canadian Embassies are in a position to issue refunds. Further, there may be limits as to the currency and form of these refunds.

Iranian Residents:

-ROLF refunds can be obtained in person (or by authorized individual) on the last Thursday of the month between 9:00 – 1 2:00 from the Canadian Embassy in Tehran, Iran. In order to obtain the refund, please bring the original refusal letter, receipt and personal identification. Refund payments are made in US dollars cash only.

Jordanian Residents:

-ROLF refunds can be obtained in person (or by authorized individual) on the last Thursday of the month between 9:00 – 1 2:00 from the Canadian Embassy in Amman, Jordan. In order to obtain the refund, please bring the original refusal letter, receipt and personal identification. Refund payments are made by cheque in Jordanian dinars only. As mentioned above, the Canadian Embassy has a limited capacity to mail refund cheques. 4 Lebanese Residents:

– ROLF refunds can be obtained in person (or by authorized individual) on the last Friday of the month between 9:00 – 1 2:00 from the Canadian Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. In order to obtain the refund, please bring the original refusal letter, receipt and personal identification. Refunds are issued by cheque in US dollars only.

Residents of Cyprus:

ROLF refunds for residents of Cyprus will be treated on a case-by-case basis. APPLICATIONS FROM OUTSIDE OF REGION As was mentioned in our previous newsletter, Damascus has a regional responsible extending to Syria, Iran, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. Please note that, as of June 1st, 1998, we are also responsible for Cyprus.

Our focus is on applicants resident within our region, and we have developed expertise to deal with these applicants. We will of course accept any application for processing from anywhere in the world, but persons who are resident outside of our region must bear in mind that:

– their interview will not be waived;
– all dependents 1 9 years of age and over who are included in the application will generally be required to attend interview; this office does not intervene with foreign governments or the embassies of other countries with respect to facilitating the issuance of visas to permit applicants to attend interview here in Damascus;
– the estimated processing times we provide do not apply to such applications.

Applicants resident outside of our region are strongly urged to consider applying at the office closest to their place of residence. It has been our experience that nonresident applicants can find that the time required for processing their applications can be at least twice as long as the time required for resident applicants. DAMASCUS AS A DESIGNATED BUSINESS IMMIGRATION CENTER The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has recently announced that certain persons applying as business immigrants must submit their applications to one of the business immigration centers designated pursuant to section 10.1 of the Immigration Act. The centers so designated are: Beijing, Bonn, Buffalo, Hong Kong, Damascus, London, Paris, Seoul and Singapore. As part of this announcement, the Minister also indicated that the designated business centers could refer applications to four other offices (Buenos Aires, Moscow, New York, Seattle).

For Damascus, no major changes in our procedures are planned as a result of this designation for the immediate future.

5 LOCATION OF INTERVIEW

Officers from Damascus carry out area visits to Tehran and to Amman to conduct interviews. We make an effort to ensure that visits to each of these offices take place every two months. As noted above, we also now have responsibility for Cyprus. Our current planning is to carry out two visits to Cyprus per year. This is based upon analysis of past trends and the past experience of the Canadian Embassy, Tel Aviv, which was the office previously responsible for Cyprus.

Applicants must bear in mind that having an interview either in Tehran or Amman is not an option available to all applicants. The location of an interview is determined by this office, with some flexibility available to some applicants as follows:

– applicants resident in Iran can request to be interviewed either in Tehran or Damascus;
– applicants resident in Iraq will be interviewed in Amman;
– applicants resident in Jordan will generally be interviewed in Jordan, though they can request interview in Damascus;
– applicants resident in Lebanon will be interviewed in Damascus;
– applicants resident in Cyprus may be interviewed either in Cyprus or Damascus.

ACCESS TO THE VISA SECTION

As was set out in our previous newsletter, the Visa Section at the Canadian Embassy, Damascus is open to the public from 8:00AM to 1:30PM on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of each week (except holidays – please see attached list of holidays for 1 998). Non-immigrant clientele are dealt with during these times, and generally on a walk-in basis. The Visa Section is also open for inquiries from the general public at these times.

An important change has been implemented with respect to the availability of Immigration program staff to deal with telephone inquiries. Given the significant increase in the volume of applications we are dealing with, we simply cannot provide the same kind of service in terms of dealing with telephone inquiries. Telephone callers may now access our voicemail system which provides pre-recorded information concerning various issues of interest. It is also possible to leave messages which will be reviewed and replied to as warranted.

The Visa Section’s Deputy Program Manager is available to meet with applicants and agents to discuss general concerns of a client-service nature. Advance notice (a minimum of three weeks prior to the date of the meeting) is required. Confirmation must be obtained from this office as to the date and time for such a meeting. Discussions with respect to specific cases will generally not be entered into. Case inquiries should be provided in writing, citing the case file number. Please bear in mind that these meetings will not be arranged on the basis of entering into a substantive review of a case officer’s decision.

6 Please note that any agent wishing to obtain information about an application in process must provide the written authorization of the applicant permitting this office to release information to that agent. The authorization must indicate a specific, named individual (or can indicate several individuals with the same firm) – firm names are not acceptable. Any persons so named as being entitled to the release of such information must be Canadian citizens. If such written authorization has not been provided, no information can be released to any third party.

In addition, we also hope to be in a position to launch a website in the near future. This website will contain information on our procedures, processing times etc., and will hopefully enhance our ability to provide accurate and timely information to our clientele. PROCESSING TIMES The following processing times reflect the major increase in the volume of applications being processed by this office: AUGUST TO OCTOBER. 1998 DAMASCUS TEHRAN AMMAN

>From date of receipt of 9 to 1 2 months 14 months 9 to 1 2 months application to interview date

>From date of interview to date 4 to 5 months 4 to 5 months 4 to 5 months of final decision

The above processing times apply to the majority of immigrant cases which require Interview and take into account current volume of cases, time required for completion of medical examinations1 and the processing time for background clearance checks. There are of course always exceptions, but generally these timeframes

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