The federal government has extended for one year a pilot program to help the spouses of Canadians already in the country but living in limbo while waiting for permanent residency.
The one-year pilot was launched in December 2014 under the previous Conservative government after the CBC Go Public team reported on the case of Blair Hacche, a new Zealand man living in Ontario. He had applied for permanent residency under the spousal sponsorship program but was struggling to support his family due to long processing times.
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Thousands of applicants like Hacche found themselves unable to work and without health coverage while the government processed their sponsorship applications.
The pilot program launched under the Conservatives was extended last month without much fanfare except for a notice posted on the Immigration Department's website.
"Immigration, Refugees, Citizenship Canada has extended the pilot program which gives open work permits to eligible spouses or partners in Canada whose in-Canada sponsorship applications have already been submitted, giving them the freedom to work while their applications for permanent residence are being processed," Nancy Caron, a spokeswoman for the department, said in an email to CBC News.
"This pilot program ensures applicants are able to work, provide for their families and contribute to the Canadian economy while waiting for their applications to be processed."
Nearly 7,600 work permits were issued between the launch of the program on Dec. 22, 2014, and Oct. 31, Caron said.
The current wait time for sponsoring a spouse or common-law partner who is already in Canada is over two years, according to the latest data posted on the federal government website.
Immigration Minister John McCallum said last week the Liberals are committed to reducing overall wait times calling such delays "way too high."
Processing times for Canadians looking to sponsor their spouses or common-law partners living outside the country are upwards of 17 months, but this pilot program does not extend to them.
Canadians who want to sponsor their parents and grandparents have been waiting upwards of four years.
The Liberals have budgeted an additional $25 million to reduce application processing times in 2016-17, followed by an additional $50 million a year for the next three years.