November 3rd, 2020 - 6:33pm
Today, Brian Masse MP (Windsor West) sent the following letter to the Minister of Immigration and Citizenship, Honourable Marco Mendicino, requesting immediate assistance for the Canadians trying to reunite with families through the family reunification and spousal sponsorship exemptions and applications.
November 3, 2020
The Honourable Marco E. L. Mendicino, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
365 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1L1
Dear Minister Mendicino,
I am writing today to share my concerns regarding your promise to prioritize family reunification during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government has stated that while implementing travel restrictions necessary for Covid-19, you are still committed to ensuring that certain priority groups are able to enter the country. I understand that key exemptions for travel are in place to ensure that vulnerable people, such as minors, are not stranded abroad and support family reunification for Canadian citizens and permanent residents of Canada. On October 2, 2020, the government announced updates to the COVID-19 travel restrictions. The updates provided new instructions on:
- Extended family member reunification exemption/the compassionate grounds exemption,
- Family reunification with regards to spousal sponsorship applications.
I understand that you have said that the Government of Canada is committed to expediting family reunification and providing travel exemptions for non-discretionary travel within a 14-day processing period. However, what is being promised is the complete opposite of what is being implemented according to the hundreds of Canadians reaching out to my office.
More specifically, I have received hundreds of calls and emails from residents who are deeply frustrated with both the Travel Exemption and Family Reunification process. In fact, they have stated that they feel that the system to date unfairly disqualifies applicants from obtaining the travel exemption to be reunited with their loved ones in Canada, including the fact that almost every case has exceeded the announced processing time.
For example, Canadians were not made aware that the 14-day processing period was 14 business days versus 14 total days. Further, the day the applications opened, there was no signature box on the application required for the processing of the application on the Government side. These Canadians were penalized for something that was completely out of their control. They have further claimed that the application process for the exemption is complex and misleading and some receive technical responses immediately, and others follow-up with the agents who say that they do not even have a record of their application leaving them to have to re-apply again.
Therefore, I would like clarification, on behalf of these applicants on the following:
Spousal Sponsorship Applications
The government announced that spousal sponsorships already in progress at visa application centres around the world will be prioritized and that processing would be expedited. To date, inquiries to IRCC, overseas visa offices and processing centres, have had no movement on requests for urgency. The standard response has been that there is no urgent processing for these types of applications. Processing times for thousands of spousal sponsorship files have now increased exponentially due to the COVID-19 pandemic and there does not seem to be any consideration or action to complete these files in a timely manner. Please note that most files have already been delayed at least six months over their intended processing time. Do you or your Government have plans to prioritize these files, specifically, will you be prioritizing outland sponsorship applications?
I continue to stress the importance of family reunification and advocate for safe visitation provided that applicants promise to adhere to public health criteria and standards. However, in order to have a seamless process, applicants need to understand what to expect when they apply for the exemption. The government needs to clearly identify the categories for each of these two programs, including eligibility criteria and provide a simple breakdown of the categories of relationships including: the length and type of relationship that needs to be proven. There should be a clear and accurate timeline and the constituents should expect that they will receive information regarding their file and not be ignored.
Furthermore, many issues that have been brought to my attention include technical difficulties, including lengthy processing delays and lack of information/misinformation regarding their applications. Applicants have stated that they have received email responses within two minutes of submitting their applications that denote the application is denied or is incomplete despite having submitted everything that was asked of them. Can you please explain how an application is reviewed in that timeframe? And by whom? Or what? This brings into question the efficiency and fairness of the program.
Another complaint from applicants is their difficulty in finding an officer who is authorized to receive a solemn declaration in order to sign their application. When most government offices and non-for-profit agencies are closed, or operating under tight restrictions, how does the government expect constituents to be able to oblige by this requirement?
My office has also received answers to our inquiries regarding the status of the exemptions that have stated that the application is not in the system yet. This is 20 days after some applications have been submitted. How can the government honestly announce that it will process applications for the travel exemption within the promised 14-day period, if the government has not opened the applications 20 days after they have been submitted?
Finally, constituents have reiterated that the government has failed to answer most of their inquiries regarding the processing of their application and have been left in the dark with no clear end in sight.
Therefore, I am asking, in addition to the questions outlined above, for:
- Immediately input all applications currently waiting to be put into the system,
- That the government commit to severely augmenting the resources dedicated to this program to ensure that people are getting the timely responses that they were promised and to enable the government to catch up on the delayed files,
- That cases be re-evaluated and reviewed because the criteria is not clear and is providing constituents and their family members with false hope, which adds to the backlog of files in which applicants are actually eligible, and,
- That additional resources be dedicated to helping expedite the existing applications and identify and fix the technical issues with regards to the software and application process.
It has been challenging to explain to Canadians why it is taking so long for them to get a response from the government regarding their files. Therefore, I respectfully request that the Government delivers on its promises to Permanent Residents and Canadians and by making this a priority. I am asking for a speedy resolution, transparency and accountability.
Having weathered months of delays, and not seeing family members and loved ones, it is vital that reunification processes are easily accessible, transparent and working for Canadians. I hope that this Government will look into what deficiencies the current system has and to try and find a immediate solution.
I thank you kindly in advance for your time and attention to these concerns. I am happy to meet with you to discuss these concerns further at your convenience and I look forward to your positive response.
(original signed by)
CC: Jenny Kwan MP (Vancouver East) – NDP Citizenship & Immigration Critic