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Canadians call for faster family reunification

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Protesters once again took to the streets across Canada this past weekend, calling on the government to address delays in spousal and family sponsorship applications.

Foreign spouses and common-law partners of Canadians are exempt from coronavirus travel restrictions, however, many couples are finding that they cannot even get a Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) for their spouse. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) oftentimes denies TRVs for people from visa-required countries if they already have a family sponsorship application in processing. This is because they have to prove they can leave Canada at the end of their authorized visit in order to get the TRV, which conflicts with their intent to immigrate permanently through family sponsorship.

As a result, many couples are forced to live apart while their permanent residence applications are in processing. Some couples claim that they have been waiting over three years for their application to be approved.

Learn more about Canadian family sponsorship

Demonstrations were held in several Canadian cities on Saturday, September 19. The events were organized by a group called Spousal Sponsorship Advocates, who emerged during the coronavirus pandemic. They are calling for amendments to the current visa requirements and the creation of a new visitor visa that would allow family members to stay in Canada while they wait to get permanent residence.

The group has an online petition with nearly 15,000 signatures. Immigration critic, Jenny Kwan, from the New Democratic Party also held a petition that gathered over 6,000 signatures calling for the creation of a special temporary resident visa. The petition is expected to go before parliament sometime after September 23 when sittings resume.

Kwan has been exchanging open letters with Canada’s immigration minister, Marco Mendicino, pushing for the special temporary resident visa.

In her latest letter, Kwan says that although Canada is extending immigration application deadlines due to COVID-19, “these extensions will ultimately result in longer processing times.” She says that it does not address people’s calls to reunite with their families in a timely manner.

Learn more about Canadian family sponsorship

Mendicino had previously suggested that family sponsorship applicants affected by the current TRV requirements could still be allowed into Canada with the concept of dual intent, that is, “an applicant seeking permanent residence does not prevent them from seeking permanent residence.” However, TRV applicants still have to satisfy IRCC that they will meet the temporary residency requirement, which Kwan says works against people who have strong family ties to Canada.

“It sets the expectation much higher for them to demonstrate that they intend on leaving the country once the TRV is expired,” Kwan’s open letter read.

Kwan says the special temporary resident visa would offer solutions to the problems that are keeping Canadian families apart, provided they meet basic requirements such as criminality checks.

More Canadians are also saying that the federal government should prioritize family reunification over other immigration classes. A recent survey found that about 36 per cent of Canadian respondents called for immigration to focus on family reunification in 2020, up from 30 per cent in 2016.

Learn more about Canadian family sponsorship