British Columbia

Families left in months-long limbo as COVID-19 halts immigration applications

Thousands of Canadians and their families have been left in limbo since the pandemic hit in March with no word from the federal government about when their family members’ immigration applications will be processed, an immigration lawyer and families say.

Couple says it's been 4 months of 'radio silence' since application submitted

Canadian Candice Vallantin and her husband, Israel Seoane, who is Spanish, have been waiting since March for Seoane to receive a work permit so he can get a job in Canada. (Submitted by Candice Vallantin)

Thousands of Canadians and their families have been left in limbo since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March with no word from the federal government about when their family members' immigration applications will be processed, an immigration lawyer and families say.

Some applicants said the lack of communication from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has left them unable to work and caused months of stress.

Canadian Candice Vallantin applied to sponsor her husband, Israel Seoane, a Spanish citizen, on March 5 after the couple moved to Vancouver earlier this year.

"We haven't heard anything since we mailed the application," Vallantin said. "Four months of complete radio silence."

Vallantin and Seoane were married in January in his home country of Spain. (Submitted by Candice Vallantin)

In usual times, applicants for family sponsorship would receive an acknowledgement that their application was received and a work permit within two to three months. 

Seoane, who works in the film industry, is currently in Canada on a visitor visa. He's still waiting to receive a work permit so that he can look for a job now that filming is picking up again in British Columbia.

"What's the point for me to start doing networking or going … to do a job interview when I'm not able to work," he said.

The couple is also worried that when it is finally processed, the application will be put on hold if it is incomplete.

"It's a big hurdle because if you don't complete the application properly, they'll send it back to you," Vallantin said.

Family sponsorship on hold

In an email to CBC News, an IRCC spokesperson said the department is still processing permanent resident applications, but that many visa application centres have been temporarily closed and this has affected operations.

"There are also many external factors that are beyond IRCC control, such as available transportation and ability to access documents," reads the email.

The department has said that applications missing documents due to COVID-19 won't be rejected, but it hasn't said if applications that are incomplete will keep their spot in the queue if they are sent back.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens said thousands, possibly tens of thousands more, are in the same position as Vallantin and Seoane. Last week, he received an email from IRCC saying that only applications submitted before Feb. 12 were being processed.

"If not then, it's not being processed, and it's not actually even in the system."

Vancouver immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens says Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has been working at reduced capacity on immigration applications as many staff were deployed to process CERB applications during the pandemic. (Jim Mulleder/CBC)

IRCC said it's prioritizing permanent residency applications for Canadians trying to return to Canada, vulnerable people and essential service workers.

Meurrens said while no updates have been announced for family sponsorship applications so far, the federal government has been making new announcements on a nearly daily basis since the pandemic started.

He said the government has already made changes to allow those with existing work permits to simply email IRCC and get their permits renewed.

"I don't know why it's not the same thing where someone can email and show that they've applied for family sponsorship and get an email back within 10 days that says, 'Due to COVID-19 and exceptional measures, you can start working.'" 

Thousands 'in the same boat'

Vallantin has been working full time throughout the pandemic but said the uncertainty is a huge mental strain. 

"As long as I can keep this job, we'll be fine," she said. "But it's really stressful not just from a financial perspective but from a mental health perspective."

She's part of Facebook and WhatsApp groups with families in similar situations.

"It's really the not knowing and the complete lack of communication and transparency, which is really stressing people out, and there are thousands of people in the same boat throughout Canada." 

Vallantin and her husband submitted an application for her to sponsor him to immigrate to Canada in early March. She's thinking about writing to her local MP for help. (Submitted by Candice Vallantin)

The couple want Seoane to get a work permit as soon as possible. At the very least, they believe IRCC should let them know the status of their application. 

"We shouldn't have to wait this long, and we shouldn't have to be facing this endless limbo to get our lives on track."

In the meantime, Vallantin said she's thinking about writing to her local MP for help but isn't optimistic that will help their situation or get them answers on their application.

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