A lawyer specializing in human rights and immigration believes that the Canadian immigration system is discriminatory when granting visitor visas.

Former Canadian delegate to the United Nations David Matas believes it is "almost impossible" for a tourist to visit Canada, if they do not meet certain "generic criteria," because Citizenship and Immigration Canada wants to make sure that visitors return to their home country when their visa expires instead of making a refugee claim.

'For these countries, I think there is discrimination. [CIC] does not consider the circumstances of individuals, it considers generic criteria.' - David Matas

This is often the case when the applicant is from a country plagued by political or economic instability, Matas said.

"For these countries, I think there is discrimination. [CIC] does not consider the circumstances of individuals, it considers generic criteria such as: Are you rich? Do you have children?," he said. 

Matas' comments come after a case of a Saskatchewan man who has been struggling to bring his parents to visit Canada for 13 years. Patrick Kongawi blames the constant refusal of visa applications on the fact that they are citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"My experience is if you are, for instance a single, young woman trying to get a visa in a country like that (DRC), it's almost impossible because you simply don't meet the characteristics they're looking for."

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.

Underfunded system

Matas argues that the immigration system is underfunded and that visa officers are overloaded.

"I think what complicates the matter is that the visa officers are overwhelmed, overworked, underfunded and they tend to make decisions very quickly on the basis of simple characteristics rather than looking profoundly into the facts of the case," he said.

This forces them to assess applications for visitor visas according to general criteria, rather than individual cases, he said.

Patrick Kongawi and son

Patrick Kongawi and his son Eli. (CBC)

Requests fruitless in Saskatchewan

For 13 years, CIC refused visitor visas to members Patrick Kongawi's family.

Kongawi moved to Saskatchewan 22 years ago from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He came to Canada with a study permit, but claimed refugee status for fear of becoming a child soldier back home. He has since become a Canadian citizen.

Immigration officials were not convinced that his relatives would return to their country after their visas expired.

From 2004 to 2015, Canada declined 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 (DRC) 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)

No data to support decision

However, Ottawa has no data on the number of Congolese nationals who do not return home after their visitor visa expires, CBC News was told.

Matas calls into question the fairness and equity of CIC's decisions.

"Why do you need a visa when coming from the Congo? It is not necessary to have a visa when you're American. If you ask the government, they will say that without a visa, people from the Congo will stay here. But how do they know that, if they do not have the data?" Matas questioned.

Ottawa said that "requests from around the world are examined uniformly and according to the same criteria, regardless of the applicant's country of origin."