When Arsheveer Kaur returned to Canada in May 2020, she never imagined she would be giving birth to her son without her husband by her side.
Now, more than one year, Kaur and her husband, Jugraj Singh, are still separated by administrative red tape. Amid the pandemic, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), has been putting some inland immigration applications on hold if the applicant has dependents overseas.
Kaur applied for permanent residence in July 2019 through a paper-based Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). She and Singh were married while her application was in processing, so she added him to her application.
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She had been in India for their wedding in January 2020, and the hope was that he would be able to get an open work permit to be in Canada for the birth of their child. Unfortunately for them, Singh was blocked by a Canadian immigration officer who was not satisfied that he would leave Canada before the end of his authorized stay, a common reason for denying entry to spouses of foreign nationals.
Since November, Kaur has been a single mother in Canada and Singh has not yet held his child.
“It is a burden on my heart, I am bothering someone every time I need something,” Kaur said. “Moreover during that kind of period, you need family support. You need your husband.”
She became one of many PNP and Express Entry applicants in Canada whose permanent residency applications were frozen by IRCC. Many reported receiving a response from IRCC along the lines of:
Regarding your application, as your dependents are overseas, the application will be placed on hold as we are only processing applications for Permanent Residency if all family members are in Canada. Unfortunately, we cannot be sure when travel restrictions will be lifted.
An IRCC spokesperson told CIC News that when applying for permanent residence, the whole family listed on the application needs to be finalized at the same time. This is because IRCC has to determine that each family member is admissible to Canada in order to approve the application. Landings, however, can occur at different times for applicants in Canada and family members overseas.
“Because we are now landing principal applicants in Canada using the new virtual landing process, this could cause a situation where overseas dependants are unable to land before the expiry of their documents,” IRCC wrote in an email. “As a result, in some cases, the principal applicant in Canada had their landing delayed until we could be assured of the likelihood of family members arriving within the validity of the file.”
The IRCC spokesperson also said that these files should see significant movement in the spring and summer months of this year.
Joy Okolo and her husband, Gerald Orji, have been separated since September 2019. During the pandemic, Okolo was working in healthcare and living alone in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. She said she did not have any supports other than colleagues, and since everything was shut down, that meant spending her off time in her apartment “praying or crying.”
The couple’s application has only recently been finalized. After five rejections, Okolo sent one final email to the case processing centre in Ottawa. To her surprise, someone replied and said everything was passed. Her husband is now scheduled to arrive in Canada in July.
“I’ve been depressed but since I know he’s coming very soon I feel I have extra energy,” Okolo told CIC News. “I feel I’m walking on angels right now. I feel much better than before.”
Her application was approved in April, but before that she was in the same boat as Irina Manezhnaya, who has been trying to reunite her family since 2016.
“Our family life goes through the screen of the phones on everyday WhatsApp calls,” Manezhnaya wrote to CIC News. “When I want to hug my husband I just put my phone on my chest and we both cry. Tens of thousand kilometres apart, eight hours time difference in between, we cry in desperation that we can do nothing to end these years of pain. We can not even afford simple gestures that loved ones need. There is an IRCC wall in between us.”
Manezhnaya has been refused 10 times, blocked by a statute in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations called 179 (b). It allows immigration officers to refuse temporary residence visas to foreign nationals whom they are not satisfied will leave before their visa expires. Although the concept of dual intent is supposed to prevent officers from denying temporary residence visas to permanent residency applicants, many spouses have run into this hurdle since even before the pandemic.
After Manezhnaya got the notice that her husband’s immigration application was being put on hold because she and her children were not in Canada, she took action. She connected about 270 people on social media who were in similar situations. They sent letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, signed by more than 50 affected individuals. She also prepared a brief, and submitted it as evidence to the Canada’s federal immigration committee, who were studying the impacts of COVID 19 on the immigration system.
“The most glaring issue for PNP and CEC applicants is the government’s current policy to put the finalization of entire applications that have met all requirements on hold because a family member is not physically in Canada,” Jenny Kwan, the immigration critic from the New Democratic Party, told CIC News. “This simply does not make sense… These are people’s lives that the Liberal government is deliberately putting on hold. The lack of communication from the government on these files simply adds insult to injury.”
Kwan is a member of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. There is at least one representative from every major political party sitting on the committee. Their role is to monitor federal policy relating to immigration, conduct studies and make recommendations on how to improve Canadian immigration. The government, which is currently led by a Liberal Party minority, has no obligation to make change, but they must at least respond to these reports.
The most recent report calls for the government to issue temporary resident visas to those affected by 179(b), among other measures to help reunite families.
Jasraj Singh Hallan is the co-chair of that committee—and also the immigration critic from the Conservative Party, the Liberal’s main opposition. He too has received complaints to his office from families who are unable to come to Canada, including those who are affected by the policy to hold applications with dependents overseas.
“[This government] needs to be more transparent on how are they helping families to reunite, and how they are going to help families reunite in a safe way,” Hallan told CIC News. “The government needs to answer that question to these people who are suffering due to the mishandling of this file.”
Mendicino’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the specific issue of inland applicants with overseas dependents, but the minister’s press secretary, Alexander Cohen, did say the modernization of the immigration system is intended to improve processing times and client services in general.
“Applicants will see faster processing times, get reliable, user-friendly service and have access to timely information about their application status,” Cohen wrote.
The modernization of the immigration system could take three to eight years, according to notes from the semi-annual meeting between IRCC and the CBA. For now, these families will have to wait until the border reopens or for IRCC to finalize their applications, whichever comes first.
“We are looking with so much hope into every news that we see from the side of the Canadian government that concerns borders reopening,” Manezhnaya told CIC News. “It will all start with the U.S. and Canada borders. Then they are going to proceed to international borders. It is just a question of time. During this eternal waiting that we are in, we just got used to waiting… waiting for all this to end.”
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