A young Ottawa couple caught up in the backlog of spousal sponsorship applications has joined more than 1,200 people in an online petition demanding an audit of Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Foreign spouses in Canada cannot work and have no health care coverage while waiting for the first phase of their permanent residency application to be approved — a process with a wait time of 17 months. Processing time for the second phase is another eight months.
Michelle Baribeau, 32, sponsored her Turkish husband Erhan Binzet, 30, after the couple was married in Ottawa in August.
Binzet told CBC News he called to check if anything in the sponsorship application needed clarification but was told it had not yet been opened.
"I can't plan anything because I don't know what's going to happen. Nothing is clear," Binzet said. "We know there is a process but they have to speed it up."
Citizenship and Immigration Canada told CBC News in an email that it is working to reduce backlogs and working to speed up the process.
The department announced a pilot project in December that will issue work permits to some sponsored spouses as they wait. Binzet said he does not know if he is eligible for the pilot project because his application is caught in limbo.
"There is nobody we can actually ask what's going on. It's frustrating," he said. "Whenever I call the call agents, I ask if my application is proper, if they need any extra documents, things, anything I have to do, they say they don't know because it has not been opened yet."
Application process 'confusing,' Binzet says
The couple met in the summer of 2011 while they were both working on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean Sea. They maintained their relationship with travel — visiting each other in their native countries and travelling across Asia together.
In the summer of 2014, Binzet came to Canada on a tourist visa.
Baribeau works at a hotel in Ottawa, and said the couple is "lucky" to be living with her parents in Orleans as they try to save money on a single income.
"I'm the one bringing home the only money we have. So it's hard. I'm the budgeting, saying we can't do this because we can't afford it," she said. "I knew it would be hard but I didn't realize it would be this hard."
Auditor General received petition
The Office of the Auditor General told CBC News in an email that it received the petition demanding an audit of Citizenship and Immigration Canada but that it does not discuss its audit plans publicly.
"The Office of the Auditor General of Canada receives many requests to conduct audits from individual citizens, groups, members of Parliament, senators, and other parties requesting an audit of a specific area. This information is logged for potential consideration in the audit planning process," media relations manager Ghislain Desjardins told CBC News in an email.
"The Office pays particular attention to requests for audits from parliamentary committees."
Desjardins said "the significance of the issue, the existing audit schedule and available resources" play a part in the decision to conduct an audit.