“Family reunification is a core immigration priority for the Government of Canada,” is an oft-repeated phrase on many government documents and webpages. Spousal sponsorship applications are typically processed in 12 months but they often take longer than that in the best of times. In the age of Covid-19 however, processing delays have greatly increased.
Canadian immigration in the age of Covid-19
Many can sympathize with the government’s position. It’s hard to run the same government bureaucracy with the efficiency that we had under pre-Covid-19 conditions. Social distancing and working from home are the new normal—but for the families impacted by these processing delays—it has heartbreaking consequences that we cannot ignore.
Take for example the case of Misha Pelletier who spoke to ITC News about her story. Misha lives in Quebec and is married to a Tunisian man she met while he was on a visa in Canada. Living as common-law partners, they submitted their first spousal sponsorship application in late 2018 which was refused. As we have previously reported, proving common-law status to immigration officials can be difficult for many couples. When Misha’s husband’s visa expired, he had to leave Canada and they have been living separately ever since.
Misha and her husband have since married in his native Tunisia and have reapplied for Canadian spousal sponsorship in July 2019. As the 12 month processing time has come and gone, Misha and her eight-year-old son are left wondering how much longer they will have to wait to be reunited.
“While most families have been asked to stay at home together during this time, our families are being ripped apart,” she said. “July 14 marks our wedding anniversary and as you can imagine, we celebrated alone.”
So while I can sympathize with the position the government is in given the global pandemic, that doesn’t mean there aren’t changes that could be made to help lessen the burden on separated families.
How Canada can help separated families
There is a House of Commons petition that seeks, among other things, to create a new class of visa for the spouses of Canadians who are currently being sponsored but come from countries that require a visa to visit Canada. Called the “Special Temporary Resident Visa” program (STRV), it would allow spouses with their children from visa-required countries to easily apply online.
What many don’t know is that IRCC often refuses temporary resident visas (TRVs) for applicants who have a sponsorship application in process. The reasons vary but when you apply for temporary status in Canada, you must satisfy the visa officer that your stay is indeed temporary.
If you have an application for permanent residence in-process, this could indicate to the visa officer that you intend to stay in Canada permanently. Therefore, this makes it more likely you will be refused your TRV.
The STRV class would allow visa officers to view TRV requests from spousal sponsorship applicants through a different lens. It would allow visa officers to consider the benefit of family reunification in the TRV process rather than the arbitrary conditions of whether the applicant intends to stay in Canada temporarily.
Why not just get rid of the Canadian spousal sponsorship backlog?
The simple answer is we should get rid of the sponsorship backlog and live up to our commitments to family reunification. The petition specifically mentions allocating a special budget to address the backlog of Canadian spousal sponsorship applications. But processing applications for Canadian permanent residence takes time, even under ideal conditions.
However, processing applications for temporary visas like work or study permits is something that the government has shown itself capable of doing quickly during the pandemic. Creating the STRV is a tangible and achievable goal that will allow separated families to be reunited in the near future.
The Facebook group Canadian Spousal Sponsorship Applicants Affected by Covid-19 will be hosting a demonstration in Montreal to push for #PrioritizeFamilySponsorship on August 8th. If you have been affected by the spousal sponsorship backlog, we want to hear from you. You can contact us at [email protected].