Canada’s immigration minister appeared before the Standing Committee as part of a study on the effect coronavirus has had on Canada’s immigration system.
Marco Mendicino attended the November 25 meeting along with the Deputy Minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), Catrina Tapley. They answered questions from members of parliament on the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration with the help of other IRCC officials.
Tapley manages IRCC’s departmental operations. Like her colleagues from IRCC who also joined the meeting, she is a public servant and not a politician.
The meeting was the sixth of eight sessions, where the immigration committee is hearing testimonials on how the pandemic has affected Canadian immigration. The minister is also scheduled to appear Wednesday, December 2 at 3:30 p.m. EST.
Here are some of the topics that were discussed:
Mendicino listed the measures that Canada took to help immigrants during the pandemic. He also boasted the new virtual landing process, which has reduced the time it takes to land new permanent residents.
He also discussed the amount of decisions being made on immigration applications in the week ending on November 14. Overall, about 80 per cent of decisions on applications were made in comparison with 2019. Certain programs saw much higher rates of processing, such as the Provincial Nominee Program which saw a 232% year-over-year increase, and the Protected Persons Class which saw a 557% increase year-over-year.
The minister also discussed the launch of an online citizenship applications platform. Citizenship applicants between the ages of 18 and 54 will soon be able to submit applications electronically. The new online platform opened up to a limited number of clients on November 30, and will be made more widely available in the new year, according to an IRCC spokesperson.
Jenny Kwan, from the New Democratic Party, asked Mendicino to consider immigrants who are on track to apply for the Caregiver Program. Since these applicants need 24 months of work experience in the field to qualify for the program, Kwan urged the minister to count the time that these applicants lost due to COVID-19 job losses toward their eligibility. She also asked that they freeze the age of eligibility for dependent children so that they do not age out of the system as a result of coronavirus disruptions, and can therefore continue to be eligible to apply for permanent residence with their families.
Mendicino responded that the government will continue to apply policy flexibilities to minimize the disruptions caused by the pandemic, including those that affect the Caregiver Program. He did not promise any measures for the program, specifically.
After the minister’s time was done, Christine Normandin from the Bloc Québécois asked IRCC officials if work permit applicants in the hospitality sector were being overlooked. Marian Campbell Jarvis, assistant deputy minister in charge of IRCC program policy, replied that the immigration department is triaging work permit applications in the context of the pandemic. Positions in healthcare and other essential services are being prioritized over other areas, which does not necessarily mean that hospitality sector positions are being ignored.
Normandin then questioned the dip in permanent residency applications processed in July, as in the months before they had been on the rise after the initial blow in April. Daniel Mills, the assistant deputy minister in charge of IRCC operations, replied that many files were in the last stages of approval before Canada went into lockdown. Those files were processed first causing the initial increase. The decrease was the result of limited resources at IRCC, and therefore a drop in productivity levels.
Normandin also asked if it is a possibility for IRCC to allow biometrics to be done at the border when immigration applicants arrive in Canada. Tapley replied that biometrics must be done before foreign nationals enter the country so that IRCC can confirm their identity, as part of a security measure. Mendicino also had previously drawn attention to the number of Visa Application Centres reopening around the world, including locations like the U.S. and India where many immigration applicants reside.
Mendicino promised that 49,000 spousal applications would be processed by the end of the year. The minister said that a special task force has been assigned at IRCC to process these applications, but did not confirm the exact number of individuals who had been assigned to these cases. He did say the department would continue working to improve processing family class application processing into 2023.
Shadow Minister Raquel Dancho, from the Conservative Party, provided the minister with a list of about 100 names of people who applied for a travel exemption as extended family members and did not hear anything from IRCC. The minister agreed to personally look at the list.
Tapley later explained that the service standard for these applications was back to the 14-day standard, after committee members were told by the IRCC call centre that they were being processed in 21 business days. The deputy minister said they have received about 50,000 email inquiries for family reunification. Not all of these represent a specific case, but each needs to be examined. Many are U.S. applicants who do not have files in the Global Case Management System. IRCC now has 100 workers assigned to these files, and overtime has increased considerably to make sure the service standard is met in time.
Kwan raised the issue of family class applicants who are constantly being blocked from getting visitor visas to Canada due to policy 179 (b). This clause states that visitor visa applicants must demonstrate that they will leave the country at the end of their authorized stay, and they must do this by satisfying the immigration officer that they have ties to their home country. They are allowed to come to Canada as a visitor if they have a permanent residency application pending thanks to the concept of dual intent.
However, Kwan asserted, “Dual intent is not working.” She said it is because the decision largely rests on the individual officer handling the case.
Kwan asked Mendicino if he would consider suspending 179 (b) for applicants applying with dual intent, or issue a special visitor visa, like the Super Visa for the Parents and Grandparents Program.
The immigration minister said he is “open minded to exploring flexibilities where necessary,” adding that each case is evaluated on their merits.
Kwan also asked about people whose permanent residency cards have expired in Canada, who are looking to travel abroad to see sick or dying loved ones. Kwan said her constituents were told they need to already have a plane ticket in order to be considered urgent cases. Tapley said they will look into this issue.
Dancho asked Tapley to explain the situation for expired Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) holders, who were approved for permanent residence but were unable to come to Canada as a result of the pandemic.
The Deputy Minister said that expired COPR holders who were approved for permanent residence before March 18 are not in Canada because they chose not to travel during the pandemic. She said this could have been for many reasons “including conditions at home.” Tapley said that they have been moving through these files since September, starting with family class and now moving into economic class applicants. IRCC is issuing the letters of authorization, which expired COPR holders need in order to travel, individually and in order from when they expired. They are not processing them on a geographical, or country-by-country basis. IRCC has never had to handle expired COPR holder requests in this way before, Tapley said.
Sections of Tapley’s response spurred criticism from expired COPR holders. Specifically, when she implied that COPR holders chose not to come during the pandemic, and that their documents are typically valid for 12 months. Countries like India and Nigeria, where many expired COPR holders live, grounded international flights in the early days of the pandemic. Expired COPR holders took to social media with claims that their documents were not valid for 12 months, as the deputy minister had suggested. Some asserting that their COPRs were valid for less than one month.
Kwan asked the IRCC officials if they could issue letters of authorization automatically, so that whoever still wanted to come to Canada could opt in, rather than going through cases individually, which is a laborious process.
Tapley said it would be better client service to issue authorization letters individually, and it would be better for Canadian Border Services Agency. Mills said that they have 7,000 more people to reach and they are looking for a strategy that is more proactive to communicate with them.
Kwan asked if the minister would extend Post Graduation Work Permits (PGWP) or make them renewable for those who were affected by the pandemic.
Mendicino said, “No international student is going to be removed by virtue alone of having an expired visa. We will allow for a period of time for them to restore that status.”
Tapley later confirmed that PGWP holders will benefit from an implied status while IRCC is working on a way to possibly extend the work permit.
Jasraj Singh Hallan, from the Conservative Party, asked the minister if there would be a pathway to permanent residence for low-skilled workers who provided essential services during the pandemic.
As Mendicino previously mentioned in the media, he suggested that Canada is looking into offering a pathway to permanent residence for workers who are contributing to essential parts of the economy. He specifically named occupations where there are dire needs such as doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and support workers.
Canada has already opened up an immigration option for asylum seekers working in healthcare. Mendicino suggested that the government would look to temporary workers and students next.
This study is looking into issues in immigration during the pandemic like application backlogs, extended processing times, and barriers preventing family reunification such as the clause that prevents spouses from visiting their partner in Canada while waiting on for a permanent residency application to be approved. They are also examining the government’s decision to reintroduce a lottery system for the Parents and Grandparents Program, as well as processing delays for visitor visas, authorization to travel letters, among others.
After the study is finished, the committee will report its findings to the House. The government then has 120 days to table a response, which may or may not amount to changes in policy.
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