How Much Has the Pandemic Impacted Processing Times? (Spoiler: A Lot)

by Ronalee Carey Law

August 2021

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has a nifty page on its website where you can look up how long your immigration application is likely to take to process. 

For months, the page has had a statement regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on processing times:

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Just how affected processing times are is unknown.  There are signs that things are starting to get back to normal, at least for some classes of applications.  My last two sponsorship applications for spouses living in the USA were processed within six months, close to the pre-pandemic expectation.  But I have files submitted pre-pandemic that are still awaiting finalization, including an Express Entry application filed in October 2019.  I have two couples who had babies born while waiting for travel restrictions to ease, who now cannot travel as their infants do not have the authorization to enter Canada.  Unsurprisingly, the location of the office processing the application makes a difference:  I have a spouse in India who has been waiting 15 months.  However, applicants residing in Canada are also impacted.  In June, the processing time for a work permit for inland spousal sponsorship applicants was 296 days.  

As we start travelling again, delays in receiving permanent resident cards will mean those affected will have difficulty visiting family outside of Canada.  For approved permanent resident applicants previously unable to travel, there have been calls to automatically extend their expired documents.  Anger and frustration are mounting and can be seen in social media posts like this one:

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I, too, find it unconscionable that IRCC has continued to accept economic-stream permanent residence applications, even creating new temporary programs, when it has seemingly abandoned so many people already in the queue.  Opening new programs may have been politically advantageous but can't compare to the heartache caused to people whose lives are on hold. 

Some applicants, tired of delays and lack of information, have gone to the courts.  The Federal Court of Canada recently granted an order of mandamus, ordering IRCC to process an application within 30 days.  In response to IRCC's argument that the pandemic had caused delays, the Court noted:

… COVID-19 pandemic does not fully explain IRCC's delay… The pandemic was undoubtedly disruptive, but governmental processes have slowly resumed and decisions are being made.

There have been calls to establish a six-month processing standard for applications where a parent and child are separated.  I wholeheartedly endorse this proposal, both for sponsorship applications and in processing permanent resident applications for protected persons in Canada. 

Another way IRCC could deflect pressure from processing delays would be to allow work permit applications for all sponsorship applications, not just for those under the Spouse or Common-Law Partner in Canada Class.  Spouses will be more willing to wait for permanent resident status if able to join their spouse in Canada and work as a temporary resident during processing.  Of course, this change would only be effective if the processing of work permits came down to the pre-pandemic goal of four months. 

Finally, IRCC could also issue a blanket extension to the status of anyone in Canada as a worker, student, or visitor.  Currently, applications to extend status in Canada as a visitor are taking 151 days to process.   If most visitors ask for an additional six months, it is inefficient for IRCC to have a process that takes over five months for a decision.  By removing the necessity to process extension applications, IRCC could focus on the backlog of permanent residence applications. 

The Parents and Grandparents Program will reopen in September, but not to new applicants

by Ronalee Carey Law

July 2021

After much expectation, the 2021 Parents and Grandparents (PGP) Program will reopen the week of September 20th.  However, new applications are not being accepted.  Only those who submitted an interest to sponsor form in 2020 are eligible for the random selection process.  This will be great news for those not selected in the January 2021 draw, as they will be getting a second chance in the ‘lottery.’  However, no new ‘lottery tickets’ are available, which will be devastating for anyone who couldn’t apply in 2020. 

A record number of people will be invited to apply in 2021. IRCC will accept up to 30,000 applications in the next intake, in addition to the 10,000 invitations sent out in January. 

Applicants are being directed to check the email address they used to submit the interest to sponsor form.  After the draws are made, applicants can double-check whether they missed an invitation using the confirmation number received in 2020.  Those who cannot locate their confirmation number will be able to submit an online form

Those invited to apply will be able to use a new Permanent Resident Digital Intake tool, which allows applications to be submitted electronically.  IRCC has recently implemented numerous new online portals, none of which permit a representative to assist with the application process.  It remains to be seen if this new tool will also limit the ability of representatives to help their clients.

As was the case for the January draw, the income requirement will continue to be the minimum necessary income instead of the minimum necessary income plus 30%.  Further, the sponsor’s income can include regular Employment Insurance benefits and temporary COVID-19 benefits, such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. 

Selected applicants will have 60 days to submit their applications. 

Post-Graduation Work Permit Holders Wanting to Become Licensed to Practice Their Profession Are Thwarted by IRCC’s Rules

by Ronalee Carey Law

June 2021

Last month, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Canadian Bar Association’s Immigration Law Online Symposium.  My paper and speaking notes are available here.

My presentation focused on matters affecting international students.  Some issues I highlighted for my colleagues were:

  • Those who study for less than two years in Canada are unlikely to qualify for permanent residence.
  • International students often work without authorization after graduation, not knowing that they cannot work until they submit their post-graduation work permit application.
  • International students who study part-time are not eligible for a post-graduation work permit, even if they dropped to part-time due to a medical issue or requiring a prerequisite for mandatory courses.
  • Only a fraction of international students achieve permanent residency.

In preparing for the presentation, one issue that I needed to research and discuss with my co-presenters concerned the ability of post-graduation work permit holders to take courses and write exams required to become licensed in a profession. Unfortunately, a gaping hole exists in the rules governing studies.  Individuals in law, healthcare, and insurance and securities are impacted, including those wishing to take courses through the Investment Industry Organization of Canada (IIROC)

All post-graduation work permits state that the holder may not engage in ‘unauthorized study.’  ‘Study’ includes ‘professional training.’  To engage in professional training, either a study permit must be obtained, or the individual must be authorized to study without a study permit. 

Study permits can only be issued for studies at a designated learning institution (DLI). However, many professional associations and regulatory bodies that provide professional training and credentialing are not DLIs.  As such, a study permit cannot be obtained for their courses. 

It is possible to study without a study permit at a non-DLI if the program of study is six months or less in duration and if the studies will be completed ‘within the period for their stay authorized upon entry into Canada.’ However, most post-graduation work permit holders are granted their permits as an application to extend their stay within Canada.  Since the period for their stay was not given ‘upon entry into Canada,’ they cannot rely on this exception to the rules concerning studies.  As a result, many international students cannot complete their professional training and become licensed to practice their profession.

My co-presenter from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada assured me that she would raise this issue to policymakers.  In the interim, one of my clients who plans to become a certified accountant will be leaving Ontario to study at CPA Western School of Business, as it is a DLI, unlike CPA Ontario.  Hopefully, incoming students to the Telfer School of Business at the University of Ontario will not have to make the same move.