To The Honourable John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada,
I hope you are enjoying your new position. May I commend you on the job your department is doing by bringing the most vulnerable of the Syrian and Iraqi refugees to Canada. I know it is taking longer than you’d hoped, but you will not hear any criticism from me. I know people who work in your department, as well as the Canadian Border Services Agency, and I am well aware of how hard your colleagues are working.
May I also applaud your decision to give a Temporary Resident Permit to Daksh Sood so that he can join his parents here in Canada.
I have a few suggestions on what I think would be important to add to your ‘to-do list’ for 2016:
1. Faster Processing of Permanent Resident Card Applications
I represent a family who have applied to renew their permanent resident cards. On the same day they applied, I also submitted their applications for citizenship. They have now written their citizenship tests, and your website says that positive decisions have been made on their applications. I presume they will be invited to a citizenship ceremony very early in the New Year. They will then be able to apply for Canadian passports, which will be ready in approximately 10 days.
But what about their applications to renew their permanent resident cards? I haven’t even received a letter acknowledging that the applications were received. They will likely have Canadian passports before new permanent resident cards, even though I submitted the applications on the same day.
Clients who have just become permanent residents are waiting for months before their cards arrive. While they wait, they can only travel in and out of Canada by private vehicle. If they want to fly or take commercial transport, they need to apply for a travel document outside of Canada, even if they are citizens of a visa-exempt country or if their previous visa is still valid. It is ironic that travelling in and out of Canada becomes more difficult for them after they’ve become permanent residents. Hiring more staff for your permanent resident card processing office is much needed.
2. Reduce Processing Times for Family Reunification
While I’m on the topic of processing times, I also noted that shortly after you became Minister, processing times for the first stage of inland spousal sponsorship applications went from 17 to 18 months. It’s not a big jump, but according to your website, the same office that processes these applications can do the same assessment for outside-Canada spousal sponsorship applications in an incredible 10 days. Why the discrepancy? Extending the open work permit pilot project for a further year while your department tackles processing times was a great decision, but my inland clients can’t travel outside of Canada to see family or conduct business while they wait for their applications to be processed.
Processing times at the second stage of outside-Canada spousal sponsorships are causing untold distress for Canadians and their family members. My clients Elizabeth (age 12) and Mark (age 6) fled Ghana with their father when Ebola threatened the region in which they were living. Their mother, a citizen of Ghana, could not join them until she had a visa. We submitted a spousal sponsorship application for her to be able to join her husband and children in Canada. After first stage approval was granted, we applied for a temporary resident visa so that she could live in Canada while processing was completed. Her application was denied. The visa officer was not convinced she had enough money for her stay, even though her husband’s application to sponsor her had already been approved! Lizzie and Mark have not seen their mother in over a year.
Processing times for the family members of refugees in Canada are even worse. I had a client who came to Canada as a refugee claimant when his wife was pregnant with their first child. He didn’t have enough money for both of them to flee Nepal, so she had to remain behind. His refugee application was initially denied, and I successfully appealed his case to the Federal Court. A new refugee board member accepted his claim. He then applied for permanent residency, and included his wife and daughter. He waited and waited, and then the earthquake occurred in Nepal. His family home was severely damaged, and his wife and daughter were sleeping in a tent. When the Canadian government announced it would expedite the processing of Nepali cases, we were overjoyed. That announcement came in April 2015. His wife and daughter only arrived this past December, on the 26th. His daughter? She’s now five years old.
3. Make a Decision About the Parent/Grandparent Program – either improve it or disband it
Please make a decision about the sponsorship of parents and grandparents. Is this a program your government will support, or not? Right now your department is processing applications received in 2011. And this is only for first stage processing. It will take years for the visa office to do the second stage of processing, unless things are sped up. You have promised to increase the number of applications you will accept in 2016 to 10,000, doubling the 5,000 limit which was set for 2015. But this is still only a drop in the bucket compared to the number of people who would like to bring their elders to Canada. Also, applying isn’t even an option for many, because they do not have the necessary three years worth of Canadian income tax statements showing the required level of income.
Critics of the program argue that people shouldn’t benefit from universal health care when they haven’t paid Canadian taxes throughout their working lives. On the other hand, proponents point to the indirect economic benefit family members provide through childcare for their Canadian grandchildren. Either way, you need to make a choice. Limiting the program to the lucky 10,000 who can get an application in before anyone else isn’t a solution.
4. Support International Students’ Transition to Permanent Residency
I’m going to call you out on this one. The Liberal platform indicated that ‘We will also make changes to the Canadian Experience Class, to reduce the barriers to immigration imposed on international students.’
The mandate letter given to you by the Prime Minister said something very different. It says that you are to ‘Eliminate regulations that remove the credit given to international students for half of the time that they spend in Canada’. It would be great if you did this, but it doesn’t help them become permanent residents in the first place.
Express Entry has not worked out that well for international students. They’ve contributed billions to the Canadian economy by paying tuition fees and living expenses. But under the new Express Entry program, they are finding that they can’t compete with applicants who may never have even been to Canada.
International students who have graduated from a Canadian university or college, worked for a year in Canada and have a permanent job offer from that Canadian company are the ideal immigrant. And yet, we’re shutting them out, because they don’t ‘score’ high enough in the Express Entry system.
You can easily fix this. You’ve promised to re-examine the point system and have said that you may allocate additional points to individuals with Canadian relatives. You can award extra ‘points’ for Canadian education. Alternatively, you can have your contemporary at Employment and Social Development Canada bring back the advertising exemption for those on post-graduate work permits, and allow the employers to pay appropriate entry-level wage, rather than the median wage which is normally for more experienced staff. Either one of these solutions would give these international students enough points to qualify for permanent residence.
5. Fix the Technical Issues with the Express Entry Online System
I beg you, hire some more IT staff. For many months now, after several promises from your Department, I still can’t login to the Representative Portal without having to try 2, 3 and sometimes even half a dozen times. Also, the MyCIC system won’t let me log-out without an error message – I can’t get in and I can’t leave!
When I finally am able to login, the system is painfully slow, technically unstable, and upload links magically disappear then reappear. For example, I recently wiped out a client’s entire travel history when a ‘yes’ answer toggled to ‘no’ during a page transition.
And speaking of travel history in the Express Entry system, is it really necessary for you to know the exact day my clients left and returned on their vacations for the last 10 years? To demonstrate my frustration with the requirement, I invite you to try going through your own passport and reconstructing every place you’ve been to and remembering how many days you stayed.
In the same vein, an official in your department told me that though it is ‘not a legal requirement’, I really should be entering all 10 years of my client’s work history in that section, even though the same 10 years of work history must be entered in the personal history section. Why? A little common sense please.
As a last practical matter, I have a feature I’d like to suggest for the system. When I send a package through UPS, their website gives me a nice little summary page of the information I’ve entered, so I can do a final check of where I want my package to go and when I want it to get there. I can easily edit a typo from this screen. I’d like that feature in Express Entry, please. There are a few other technical things that have caught me eye… Once you’ve hired some more IT people, please have one of them give me a call, I’ll gladly give them a list!
Thanks for taking the time to read my suggestions. It’s great to have you at the helm. Keep up the good work!