What IRCC Is, Is Not, and Cannot do for the People of Afghanistan

by Ronalee Carey Law

September 2021

If you tried to contact the IRCC Client Support Centre these past weeks, you likely received a message that a high volume of enquiries related to the crisis in Afghanistan has required a 'shift in resources.'  Webform responses state that no reply will be sent unless your query is on a list of those considered 'priority.’

Shortly after the crisis in Afghanistan erupted, the Canadian government announced that it would resettle 20,000 vulnerable Afghan nationals to Canada.  It created two programs:

  • A special immigration program for those who had 'assisted the Government of Canada,' including interpreters and former Embassy staff. Applicants are permitted to apply directly to the program through an email address and do not have to be outside of Afghanistan.
  • A special humanitarian program to resettle vulnerable individuals, including women leaders, human rights advocates, persecuted religious minorities, LGBTI individuals, and journalists and people who assisted Canadian journalists. Applicants must be outside of Afghanistan and be designated as a refugee by the UNHCR or another designated referral organization. They will be resettled as either government or privately sponsored refugees.

The program to get interpreters and other individuals out of Afghanistan was limited by the Canadian military's decision not to send troops to assist those trying to get to the Kabul airport's secure area.  In this riveting podcast, you can listen to how the Globe and Mail assisted two of its interpreters to get to the airport with the help of soldiers from Ukraine. 

The special humanitarian program is a great start, but there are 2.6 million registered Afghan refugees in countries such as Pakistan and Iran.  And with the influx of individuals to neighbouring countries, UNHCR and other designated referral organizations will be hard-pressed to register all those in need of protection. 

Outside of the special immigration program for those who had assisted the government of Canada, IRCC does not have the mandate to help those still in Afghanistan.  By definition, a 'refugee' is someone who is outside of their country of nationality.  This definition is set out in the United Nation's 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.  The UN's definition of a refugee is incorporated into section 96 of Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.  Groups such as the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program are hopeful that IRCC will create an expanded program to help those in and outside Afghanistan and are gearing up to be ready to help.  Dropping the requirement to have UNHCR status was done during the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015.

Concerning its regular immigration programs, in a program delivery update, Special measures for Afghanistan, IRCC mandated that the following types of applications will receive priority processing:

  • Visitor visa and sponsorship applications for immediate family members (spouses/partners, dependent children) of Afghan citizens or permanent residents
  • Protected persons applications for permanent residence for Afghan citizens where a spouse or children are residing outside of Canada
  • Dependents of resettled Afghan refugees

Thus, Canada is not providing priority processing to Afghan citizens who do not have a spouse or a parent in Canada.   

The Canadian Association of Refugees Lawyers has called on the Canadian government to issue temporary resident permits to allow family members to travel to Canada immediately.

I have received many inquiries from those wanting to help friends or family members, including aid workers in Afghanistan, resettled refugees in Canada, U.S. immigration lawyers, and members of the Canadian judiciary.  I have also heard of many Canadians wishing to sponsor Afghan refugees.  The will is there; there need only be the means.

 

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.