Honourable committee members
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration this afternoon. Again, my name is Jatin Shory and I am an immigration and refugee lawyer, working at Shory Law in Calgary, Alberta. It is my understanding that the Committee is currently studying the impact of COVID-19 on Canada’s immigration system. I believe this inquiry is an important step in the right direction and I suspect that the Committee members have received a variety of perspectives and suggestions over the course of this exercise.
It was only 7 months or so ago when the Canadian government began to announce significant steps to contain and manage an unpredictable timeline due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. In my world, that of immigration law, it began with significant border closures and restrictions on travel; resulting in thousands of families becoming separated. Internally, application processing was halted, and hearings at various courts and tribunals paused. The world of immigration law subsequently became a process of staying up to date with further directions from the government, policy announcements, and interpreting Orders in Council being issued, at times, on a weekly basis.
Around this time, I had just won a matter at the Immigration Appeal Division, by consent from the Minister’s Counsel. My client sponsored his wife. He was the father of 3 and his family application had been refused via an interview of his wife that he did not even get a chance to participate in. After this win, of course, my client was ecstatic. His wife’s file was being managed through the High Commission of Canada office out of London . Covid hit, and his file remains at a standstill today. My client had 3 children with his wife and yet, the genuineness of the marriage was still being questioned. He has now been waiting almost 3 years for his family to reunite in Canada.
Most of the phone calls or advice I gave for the first few months following the lockdown were largely around “how do I bring back my spouse, how do I reunite with my partner, why is the airline not letting my family board when they have all the documentation the government says they need.” It became clear that family reunification, which is among the objectives of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, would need to become a priority. This left a lasting impression on me as a professional, and I continued to observe what solutions the government was presenting for the future of immigration to Canada.
Family reunification is at the forefront for many Canadians and permanent residents. There have been homegrown movements by Canadians and permanent residents demanding more transparency on why their applications to reunite with their loved ones had been halted – and this was covered extensively by the media. The government responded by confirming the allocation of more resources to the processing of overseas applications. I applaud those efforts – many of my clients who were in the final stages of their processing are now beginning to receive their passport requests.
However, what will happen to thousands of families who have been picked for interviews that, in reality, have no specified timeline to resume?
One of my clients came out of a very abusive relationship. She had a child out of this relationship. Culturally, she struggled with gaining independence and confidence to move forward in her life in these conditions. She found a life partner and overcame the adversity faced by women in her circumstances. We were told that interviews were going to be set for Summer 2020. Obviously, that did not happen, and my client remains lost as to when she can begin the next chapter of her life.
In a time where Canada is beginning to evaluate a more efficient system of processing applications that maintains integrity, I believe it is imperative that IRCC also take this as an opportunity to go back to the drawing board on how overseas applications are being processed and selected for interviews
It is imperative that IRCC takes this opportunity to consider the following reforms:
1. Speeding up the interview and application process and
2. To introduce new forms of training for immigration officers to make them more attuned to parties’ physical and mental conditions, as well as their social and cultural backgrounds.
The backlog of file processing will definitely result in families being separated for unjustifiable periods because of the current system.
The movement towards electronic solutions is apparent and required in 2020. However, some of the most important family reunification pathways available today continue with the status quo from the previous years:
– The paper filing of H&C/Spousal sponsorship/TRP applications
– Need for wet signatures
The use of technology can be further instilled in the interview process; virtual interviews are a solution to an anticipated backlog of processing. It is a process that has been smoothly incorporated at the Immigration and Refugee Board. If we can introduce Artificial Intelligence at various visa processing centers overseas, then why can we not bring forward a solution like this as well?
Canada is a leader when it comes to global immigration. We need to continue to demonstrate that through this pandemic.
Thank you again and I invite any further questions.