'There's nothing left to do': Soon-to-be Canadians decry long waits for citizenship oath ceremonies

Significant backlogs in the approval process to become a Canadian citizen have left thousands of immigrants waiting months, and even years, to take their oaths.

Delays in process to become Canadian citizen leave thousands of immigrants in limbo

Rahkee Barua, left, and Jewel Debnath, immigrated to Canada from Bangladesh in 2016 with their 11-year-old daughter, Arani Kiran Durga. The family has been waiting months to take their oaths to become Canadian citizens, and the wait has prevented them from visiting a sick family member overseas. (Courtesy Rakhee Barua)

Updated Feb. 10, 2022:

Following an inquiry from CBC News, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) says both Barua and Verbitskyi's families have been invited to take their oaths. 

When Rakhee Barua and her family's permanent residency (PR) cards expired last year, she said she didn't even consider renewing them.

After all, the Bangladesh-born family, who came to Canada in 2016, had passed their Canadian citizenship exam months earlier, and had just one last step to take before becoming full-fledged Canadian citizens: being sworn in at an oath ceremony, typically scheduled three to four months after passing the exam.

But almost a year later, Barua and her family are still waiting for an invitation to take their oath from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

"We were thinking, 'we'll get it next month, we'll get it next month, we'll get it next month,'" said Barua's husband, Jewel Debnath, of the arduous wait for the invitation. 

WATCH | Couple describes tearful wait for citizenship:


Couple describes tearful wait for citizenship oath

2 years ago
Duration 1:17
Featured VideoMontrealer Rakhee Barua says she can't visit her cancer-stricken mother in Bangladesh because of a year-long wait to take a Canadian citizenship oath.

The uncertainty weighs heavily on Barua, who can't travel to Bangladesh to be with her mother — who has breast cancer — due to her expired PR card and the delay on her status. 

"My mother is sick. I cannot wait because I don't know what will happen."

Barua said her mother has been pleading for a visit before undergoing more treatment.

IRCC delays in scheduling the simple ceremony, which has been moved online due to COVID-19, has left thousands of Canadian hopefuls like Barua and her family in limbo — waiting months, and even years, to become citizens. 

"There's nothing left to do," said a frustrated Debnath of the citizenship process.

'I'm just waiting for that oath' 

Because her PR card has expired, Barua would not be allowed back into Canada after travelling overseas to visit her mother. Renewing the card costs $50 per person, and after looking into the process, she said the wait time is between five and six months due to the backlog at IRCC.

Nupur Barua, left, with Arani Kiran Durga. (Courtesy Rahkee Barua)

"Like us, many people are suffering," she said.

Oleksii Verbitskyi, a software developer from Ukraine, says his family has been waiting for more than two years for their Canadian citizenship, and he's spent 11 months of that time period waiting for a date to attend the oath ceremony. 

"It's ridiculous, I have everything completed, I'm just waiting for that oath," said Verbitskyi, who came to Canada with his wife and daughter in 2016 and passed the citizenship exam in March 2021. His youngest son was born in Montreal. 

"It's important ... but it's [a] formality, to be honest." 

After contacting the IRCC through online forms and emails, Verbitskyi says he still only receives boilerplate responses from the department. He says the lack of communication is frustrating. 

"We live in the 21st century, you have online tools and everything," he said. "Give us something, some feedback, like some way to know."

60,000 approved applicants awaiting ceremony

Last year, Canada announced it would spend $85 million to plow through the backlog of immigration applications caused by COVID-19. On Monday, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser said the government hopes to expand virtual citizenship ceremonies, as well as introduce an electronic oath of citizenship to help speed up the process. 

Fraser said there are currently around 60,000 people approved for citizenship who are waiting for a ceremony.

Oleksii Verbitskyi has been waiting more than two years for his Canadian citizenship. (Courtesy Oleksii Verbitskyi)

"We will be having conversations to ensure that we administer the system in a way that improves efficiency, but at the same time doesn't deny those people who want to take part in a formal ceremony and be welcomed into the Canadian family in that traditional way," the minister said.

But the president of Quebec's association of immigration lawyers, which goes by its French acronym, AQAADI, says there's no reason the process should be taking this long. 

"The oath is the end of the process, it's not a question of deciding anything, it's just to receive the documents," said Stéphanie Valois. The process took only a few weeks before the pandemic, she said. 

"[People have] been waiting a year, more than a year, a year and a half ... It should definitely be addressed because there are no reasons," she said. 

A responsibility to make Canada better

Both Barua and Verbitskyi immigrated to Canada with the hope of giving their children a better life, and are eager to obtain citizen status. 

"It's a very peaceful country … It's known as the best country in the world," Barua said of Canada, smiling. 

Verbitskyi says he loves living in the quaint suburb of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue in Montreal's West Island, and he touts the expertise of doctors who he says saved the life of his youngest child.

"For eternity, I will be grateful to Canada," he said, tearfully. 

But Verbitskyi says calling out the inefficiencies in the country's immigration system is his civic duty, and he hopes it will make the process easier for other prospective immigrants and citizens. 

"It's our responsibility as loyal citizens to make [Canada] even better."

With files from Jay Turnbull and the Canadian Press