Family Reunification Programs Continue to be Inequitably Applied

by Ronalee Carey Law

June 2024

For the spouses and partners of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, recent improvements to processing times of family sponsorship applications are welcomed. Processing times for both the Family Class and the Spouse or Common-Law Partner in Canada Class are currently ten months for the majority of applications. However, ten months is still a very long time for newlyweds to be reunited and for Canadians wishing to return to live in Canada and bring their families. One client recently emailed me, saying, ‘We don't really understand how IRCC thinks it's acceptable to allow people to wait upwards of a year to bring in their spouse.’

Being able to come to Canada as a temporary resident during the processing of a sponsorship application is a potential solution, but unfortunately, this opportunity is not equitably applied to all applicants. This inconsistency in the application process is not only inefficient but also unfair, as it puts some families at a disadvantage.

As I wrote in December 2022, Dual Intent Policy for Spousal Reunification not Leading to Reunification, despite IRCC’s promise to allow more spouses to come to Canada as visitors, officers still routinely deny applications; this is as true today as it was in 2022. I recently had a client’s application for a visa denied. The refusal letter listed every possible ground, including that they were ‘not satisfied that you have a legitimate business purpose in Canada.’ This reason was particularly egregious as the applicant was not coming to Canada for business purposes; she is a homemaker. Her visitor visa application was denied in February. The sponsorship application was approved in May, and the client is now in Canada with her partner. They could have been reunited in Canada three months earlier had the visitor visa been issued.

Though Family Class applicants are now permitted to apply for work permits after entering Canada, lengthy processing times (currently 99 days) mean applicants who choose to reunite with their spouse in Canada must give up their income unless they have the kind of job that allows them to work remotely for their employer back home. Those who can’t afford not to work must remain separated from their spouse. It is impossible to apply for this kind of work permit upon entry to Canada; this should this be changed. Spouses could start looking for work immediately.

I recently agreed to chair the Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association (CILA) Family Reunification Committee. I hope to work with the committee to pressure IRCC to improve its policies and processes.

Another issue I would like the committee to tackle is the processing time for Convention refugees/protected persons dependents.  IRCC is currently taking an astounding 49 months to allow spouses and children to come to Canada to join their family members after a successful refugee claim. Often, the family members left behind are in danger themselves and are moving from place to place while hiding from persecutors. Enduring a long separation makes it difficult for protected persons to integrate into Canadian society fully and to heal from the trauma they endured before coming to Canada. Everyone suffers. If we offer protection to refugee claimants, we should process their family members’ applications as quickly as we do for other families.