Canada’s immigration minister is announcing that his department will make significant efforts to reduce processing times for spousal sponsorship applications.
The new measures, announced on September 24, will see the number of decision-makers assigned to spousal sponsorship applications increase by 66%.
Background: Canadian spousal sponsorship delays
ITC News previously covered the delays in spousal sponsorship applications and the effects it has on Canadian families separated from their loved ones. Protests across Canada erupted on September 19 to increase the pressure on Canadian Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino to address the backlog of spousal sponsorship applications.
Despite claims on the IRCC website, processing times for spousal sponsorship applications for many cases have exceeded the 12-month processing window.
New sponsorship measures announced by IRCC
Under the new measures, IRCC hopes to process 6,000 applications each month from October to December 2020. This should bring the total number of spousal sponsorship applications processed in 2020 to 49,000, a significant shortfall from IRCC’s pre-COVID-19 plans of 70,000 files.
In addition to the 66% more decision-makers assigned to spousal sponsorship applications, IRCC intends to leverage new technologies to further reduce processing delays.
The announcement states that a new technology pilot program will work to digitize paper applications to allow IRCC staff to more easily process applications while working remotely. IRCC is also looking to conduct immigration interviews for spousal sponsorship applications online, in what might be a preview of things to come as Canada moves to modernize the immigration system.
“We understand that the last few months have not been easy for those who are far from their loved ones in these difficult times. This is why we are accelerating the approval of spousal applications as much as possible. Our government will continue to find new ways to keep families together.”
– The Honourable Marco E. L. Mendicino, P.C., M.P., Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
Unanswered questions remain
For many separated families, the announcement that IRCC has heard their pleas is welcome news but there are still many unanswered questions.
It’s unclear if IRCC will prioritize outland sponsorship applications (sponsorship for spouses who are not residing in Canada) above inland sponsorship (for spouses who are already together in Canada) to expedite family reunification.
The announcement makes no reference to a House of Commons petition to implement a “Special Temporary Resident Visa” (STRV) program for spouses of Canadians who are living apart from their partners but who have also been denied a visa to Canada.
Finally, the announcement doesn’t state if IRCC will accept documents that are expired due to significantly longer than expected processing times or if IRCC will create exceptions for applicants who cannot obtain requirements due to COVID-19 related shutdowns in their home countries.
The announcement does make reference to “facilitative biometrics measures” that IRCC claims will allow for faster processing times for spousal sponsorship applications but no additional information on what these measures are was provided.
It’s possible that “facilitative biometrics measures” might be a reference to a previous announcement that some permanent resident applicants who have already provided biometrics for a previous application are exempt from providing them for a new one. If true, this will do little to help applicants who have not previously provided biometrics and cannot obtain them because the facilities that take them are shut down due to COVID-19.