A Canadian who has been struggling to bring his parents to visit for the past 13 years blames the constant refusal of visas on the fact that they are citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In the rejection letters, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) says that Patrick Kongawi's parents did not convince its agents that they will leave the country before their visas expire.

Kongawi, who has lived in Saskatchewan for 22 years, says his parents don't intend to stay in Canada. He says they meet all the criteria for obtaining a visa.

"I feel that the immigration office treats you differently depending on where you come from. If I did not come from a troubled country, if I was from a stable country, I think I would not have experienced the same obstacles," Kongawi said.

Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, nationals of 148 countries, mainly in Africa, the Middle East and South America need a visa to visit Canada. However, citizens from 58 other countries can visit Canada without visas.

Visa submission

When Kongawi contacted Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, a spokesman with his office said Kongawi's mother would be eligible to apply for another visa should she provide full documentation and add the following:

  • Funds available.
  • Employment history.
  • Income history.
  • Bank statements for the past six months are "often suggested to show funds available aren't a sudden lump sum deposit or loan."
  • Show ties to home that will "absolutely require her to return home. This includes employment, property, current rental/lease agreements that will continue in her absences and an explanation (a photo might help) of any family back home that rely on her. These things will show she will absolutely return home."
  • Mention she visited a long time ago and "provide documents showing past travel to other countries and returns home."

The spokesman specified that he was relaying information from CIC.

Kongawi believes that this is an invasion of his family's privacy and the conditions are overly complex.

"This is not a balanced system because if you were Belgian or French, you do not need a visa. You come here, you go. It's over," Kongawi said.

"It's very difficult because we always look suspicious … Canada can become a prison, really a real prison for immigrants."

Kongawi fears that the newly arrived Syrian refugees in Canada could face the same fate as him and be separated from their family members, because they'll need visas to visit them.

Low chances of getting visitor visas

From 2004 to 2015, Canada refused on average 18 per cent of applications for visitor visas in all countries. During the same period, the average percentage of visas denied to nationals of the Democratic Republic of Congo was 58 per cent.

Visitor visas

The average acceptance rate of applications for visitor visas from the Democratic Republic of Congo is 42 per cent. (CBC)

A matter of perception

Chris Veeman, an immigration lawyer in Saskatoon, believes that the citizens of politically unstable countries find it more difficult to obtain visitor visas for Canada.

"It's very common that immigration officials think they will stay in Canada, where there is more security and more economic opportunities. It can be very difficult to succeed in situations like this," he said.

He believes that perception can play a central role in the decision of immigration officials to grant a visa.

"Immigration officers must ensure that visitors will leave Canada at the end of their [visa] visit. ... It is a fear that people come here as visitors and they are trying to stay without making application for permanent residence," Veeman said. 

Chris Veeman

Immigration lawyer Chris Veeman believes that citizens of countries plagued by political instability struggle more to obtain visitor visas to Canada. (CBC)

In a message sent to CBC, federal officials said they ensure that "requests from around the world are examined uniformly and according to the same criteria, regardless of the country of origin of the applicant."

The federal government adds that "foreigners who wish to come to Canada as temporary residents must prove that they will respect the conditions that apply to temporary residents, including willfully leaving the country at the end of their visit."