Future Canadians still cannot immigrate despite eased travel measures
The Abdeali family had made all the arrangements to come to Canada this year, as they finally received their approval for permanent residency during the pandemic. However, their travel documents expired before they were allowed to come to Canada. Now, they are among many approved permanent residents who have given up everything to come to Canada only to be told to wait for an indefinite amount of time.
Zainab Abdeali, a school teacher, gave her notice that she would not be returning for the next school year, as she and her family had been approved to come to Canada. Her husband dissolved his business. The couple sold their possessions and pulled their two children out of school.
Due to the travel restrictions, they could not travel to Canada to complete the final step in the immigration process. Between March 18, 2020 and June 21, 2021, approved permanent residents were not allowed to come to Canada. The only exceptions were for U.S. residents coming from south of the border and approved permanent residents who fell under another exemption.
The Abdeali family live in India, and they did not fall under another exemption. Now, they are among many Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) holders who are running into the same problems that pre-March-18 COPR holders had amid travel restrictions. Their documents expired while the border was closed to them, and the government does not allow for approved permanent residents to complete the landing process with invalid COPRs. As a result, future Canadian immigrants cannot take the last step to permanent residency, even though they have passed every other step in the process.
For the Abdeali's their immigration process began in 2018.
"We’ve gone through everything. All ground checks. All the eligibility requirements. The medical is passed. We're already approved. And again we are waiting for the immigration asking us if we want to move," Zainab said.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)’s solution has been to contact clients individually, rather than providing a blanket exemption.
"Each client’s situation is unique and needs to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to ensure that they have valid visas for travel. In order to minimize the chance that they will encounter issues when they seek admission as permanent residents at the border, a broad extension for expired COPRs is not feasible," IRCC media relations said.
They also stopped issuing COPRs for 90 days starting in March 2021, in an effort to curb the number of people whose documents would expire before travel restrictions were lifted. IRCC did not say how many post-March-18 COPR holders there are, as they are still calculating and verifying the data.
The official instructions for post-Mar-18 with expired documents say to wait for IRCC to contact them, and requests that they not contact IRCC. Instead, IRCC will send an email asking expired COPR holders if they still want to travel, then give them 10 days to respond. Eventually, IRCC will ask them for medicals and passports, if required. Individuals will have to respond to the requests, then IRCC will issue their renewed documents.
But the don’t-call-us-we'll-call-you approach has left many in immigration limbo. With the expectation that they would be immigrating to Canada, many quit their jobs, pulled their kids out of school, and sold their possessions.
Akshya Shivkumar and her husband both quit their jobs in anticipation of immigrating to Canada. Their COPR expired shortly before travel restrictions on lifted in June. Since then, Shivkumar says she has been checking her email every day searching for answers, as her and her husband's settlement funds slowly dwindle.
"We are all stuck in this waiting game, all for an ‘email’ of instructions that would take weeks? Months? Years?" Shivkumar said, "We are desperate for concrete information on processing timelines so we can get out of this limbo and mental distress."
Many expired COPR holders, report feeling mentally distressed while waiting for their documents to be approved. The lack of available information means they cannot make plans for their future in their home country, nor in Canada.
"My kids are asking again and again when are they able to travel to Canada," said Avtar Singh, another approved permanent resident. "The mental stress is way too much to handle. I'm losing weight."
Singh gave up a senior position at his company in February 2020 in anticipation that he would arrive before his COPR expired two months later. Amid the height of the pandemic, and severe restrictions in India, there was no way for Singh, his wife and kids to come to Canada in time.
There is no fixed timeline for how long expired COPR holders will have to wait for IRCC to reissue their documents. IRCC suggested it would be "months" in an email to CIC News:
Individuals with expired COPRs issued after March 18, 2020, can expect to receive instructions from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) in the coming months about what they need to do if they would like to have their COPR reissued. Family class applicants will be prioritized, after which clients will be contacted based on the date they applied for permanent residence.
For pre-March-18 COPR holders, it took 10 months to contact roughly 10,000 individuals. IRCC started issuing renewals in September 2020, officials said in a government committee meeting. As of July 11, 2021, all pre-March-18 COPR holders who were eligible for an extension have been contacted, according to an IRCC spokesperson.
Without a firm timeline, and no answers, many approved permanent residents have attempted to contact IRCC and other officials anyway, including Zainab.
"I called [the high commissioner of Canada to India] asking them what can be provided to us, wherein I know in a month or two months or what at least I have a timeframe in which I can do something for my children," Zainab said. "I can [go back to work at] a school again, I can get my children into school again."
Her 15-year-old son Murtza, also sent a video to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, asking them to allow him and his family to travel to Canada.
"It’s so unfair to us that we’re abiding by everything and they’re processing other files like work permits," Murtza told CIC News, referring to work and study permit holders who are allowed to travel to Canada. "On September 7, even tourists are going to be allowed but not us. We’re waiting for three years — we applied in 2018. It is very unfair."
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