International Couples Affected by Immigration Processing Delays in Canada
As immigration lawyers, we see on a daily basis the impact on international couples who have to wait for a visa decision in order to be reunited. In some countries, couples may have to wait two years or more before they can start or resume their family life. And unfortunately, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has only added to the delays being experienced by visa applicants. In Canada, delays in processing spousal visas have been especially problematic, leading to protests and demonstrations by some of those affected.
International Couples Face Serious Canadian Immigration Processing Delays
National news broadcaster, CBC, reported back in August[PM1] 2020 on the plight of many international couples whose spouse visa applications had stalled even before the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when it is natural to want to be with our loved ones, many migrants are being forced to wait for protracted time periods with little in the way of updates from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). The problem has become so acute that many rallies have now taken place in Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Vancouver.
CBC provides the example of one couple who have been affected by the ongoing IRCC delays; Haiste and her husband Mohamed, who were married in August 2018. The couple applied 20 months ago for a Canadian spouse visa, and Mohamed has been waiting in his home country of Egypt since that time. Speaking to CBC, Haiste told them, "All holidays, all birthdays, all funerals — everything is hard…. we were told in the beginning that it should be about 12 months. So, that's what we expected…."He should have been here before COVID-19, so [it’s] not an excuse for this delay. With the pandemic thousands of people have started speaking up saying this has been happening to them too."
According to many spouse visa applicants, they have not received any form of communication from IRCC regarding their application since February 2020.
Appealing to The Canadian Immigration Minister
Jenny Kwan, who represents the New Democratic Party of Canada on immigration policy, sent a letter to Federal Immigration Minister, Marco Mendicino in July voicing her serious concerns on this matter. Her letter advocated for a special ‘Temporary Resident Visa (TRV)’ to be given to spouses and partners who have applied for a permanent residence under the family class. The immigration minister’s response to Kwan fell short of backing the idea of the new TRV for this specific purpose, but did acknowledge that COVID-19 has led to significant problems and delays at IRCC and that they had extended deadlines for the submission of supporting documents accordingly, and given permanent resident applicants more time to apply to extend their stay in Canada.
He also reiterated that there is an existing process for a TRV which can be used, however, holders are required to leave once their immigration status expires; he stated[PM2] , “We also have a process in place that permits spousal sponsorship applicants to apply for a TRV or electronic authorisation while awaiting a decision on permanent residence. Under the concept of dual intent, an applicant seeking permanent residence does not prevent them from seeking temporary residence.
Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), as long as the applicant can satisfy an officer that they meet the requirements of temporary residence, including that they will leave at the end of their authorised period of stay, any applicant may seek temporary residence in Canada while they await a decision on their application for permanent residence”.
The problem with applying for a TRV is that if there is no intent to leave once the visa expires, which IRCC may consider is the case for those waiting to be reunited with their spouse in Canada, then there is a chance that it will be refused, or if not, that the holder may be in breach of immigration rules by not returning home.
The Further Impact Of COVID-19 On International Couples Waiting to Be Reunited in Canada
As those impacted by the delays in processing spousal visas in Canada have acknowledged, the problem long pre-dates COVID-19, but the pandemic has undoubtedly made the situation more difficult. At the height of the pandemic, immigration service centres and biometric centres were closed both in Canada and internationally, meaning that progress on applications came to a halt.
Furthermore, travel bans and restrictions made it impossible for international couples to reunite. In a bid to improve this situation, IRCC implemented exemptions for some wishing to travel to Canada, including the immediate family members of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. The IRCC COVID-19 policy states[PM3] that to be eligible for the exemption, the individual must provide evidence that they are:
- an immediate family member of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident
- staying in Canada for at least 15 days
- If staying for less than 15 days, they must meet the same requirements as all other foreign nationals.
While this may have made the situation better for some international couples, those who are engaged but not eligible for common-law status[PM4] are not exempt from travel restrictions.
If you are waiting for a decision on your Canadian spouse visa or permanent residence application, it is advisable to seek the services of an immigration solicitor who can ensure your case is kept on track. Immigration lawyers understand the process and steps which are taken by IRCC case officers and will be able to advise you if there is any delay in your application. They will also be able to advise on how to reunite with your partner in Canada as soon as possible, even if your application is still being processed.