Immigration committee study highlighting coronavirus impact on Canadian immigrants

Shelby Thevenot
Published: November 11, 2020

Separated family members, approved permanent residents unable to travel to Canada, and others are speaking up in the House of Commons as witnesses in a study on Canadian immigration.

Canada's Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration is conducting a study that will examine the impact of COVID-19 on the Canadian immigration system over the course of no more than eight sessions. Once the study is complete, the committee will report its findings to the House. The government then has 120 days to table a comprehensive response, however, they are not obligated to make any change in policy.

This particular study will look into the following issues relevant to the coronavirus impact on Canadian immigration:

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  • Application backlogs and processing times for the different streams of family reunification and the barriers preventing the timely reunification of loved ones, such as denials of Temporary Resident Visas (TRVs) because of section 179(b) of the Immigration and Refugees Protection Regulations, and the ongoing closures of Visa Application Centres;
  • Examine the government's decision to reintroduce a lottery system for the reunification of parents and grandparents; to compare it to previous iterations of application processes for this stream of family reunification, including a review of processing time and the criteria required for the successful sponsorship;
  • TRV processing delays faced by international students in securing TRVs, particularly in francophone Africa, authorization to travel to Canada by individuals with an expired confirmation of permanent residency, use of expired security, medical, and background checks for permanent immigration.

While House is in session, the committee is meeting at 3:30 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays. The next meetings are scheduled for November 16, and 18. Immigration minister, Marco Mendicino, has been invited to appear before the committee on November 25 and December 2.

How travel restrictions are affecting immigrants' mental health

Among other early findings, the mental health of immigrants and their Canadian family members was examined in two scenarios relating to family separation.

Faces of Advocacy is a grassroots organization established to reunite families in Canada during COVID-19 travel restrictions. They say they are directly responsible for the exemption on extended family members, which was announced on October 2.

The group indexed the mental health of 1,200 members at the end of August. They used validated mental health rating scales for depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress in civilians. The results are not diagnostic, but offer a glimpse into the mental health effects that have resulted from travel restrictions.

Despite 49 per cent of respondents reporting they have never been diagnosed with mental illness, just over 69 per cent would screen positive for symptoms of clinical depression. In addition, 16 per cent of respondents had a history of self harm or suicidal thoughts prior to the travel restrictions, but after family separation this nearly doubled to 30 per cent.

Spousal Sponsorship Advocates was established during the pandemic to advocate for the accelerated reunification of families with ongoing spousal sponsorship applications in Canada.

Their survey took a mental health snapshot of 548 respondents, who had been separated from family for months or even years at a time. Of these, a reported:

  • 18 per cent have suicidal thoughts;
  • 22 per cent had to stop working;
  • 70 per cent have anxiety and 44 per cent generalized anxiety;
  • 35 per cent started having panic attacks;
  • 78 per cent have periods of severe depression;
  • 76 per cent have severe energy loss;
  • 57 per cent now have physical pain;
  • 52 per cent gained or lost weight abnormally;
  • 85 per cent have sleep problems.

The mental state of expired confirmation of permanent residence, or COPR, holders was also mentioned. These are people who were approved for permanent residence, but were not able to travel to Canada before their documents expired. As a result, many are unable to come to Canada without an authorization letter from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, and they have already upended their lives in their home country. The evidence includes a series of tweets that are intended to show the "pains, agony, [and] mental torture" experienced by COPR holders.

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