Nova Scotia

Husband and wife haven't seen each other for a year as immigration application stalls

Eric Meredith is going through his second Christmas season at his home in Mahone Bay, N.S., without his wife, Kathleen, who is from the Philippines. He says Canada's spousal application process is too slow.

Federal Immigration Department said in September it aimed to improve wait times by year end

Eric and Kathleen Meredith have been in a long-distance relationship since meeting on a dating website in 2015. (Submitted by Eric Meredith)

Eric Meredith is going through his second Christmas season at his home in Mahone Bay, N.S., without his wife, Kathleen. 

"It's just over a year since I've seen her. And, you know, it puts a tremendous strain on me personally and on her personally and on us as a couple," he said. 

Kathleen Meredith is a citizen of the Philippines. She and Eric Meredith met on a Christian dating site and fell in love over the course of a long-distance relationship that began in 2015. In November 2019 he travelled to the Philippines, where they married. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been separated for most of their marriage. 

"We're happy and we love each other. But it's extremely debilitating," he said. "It's hard to explain to people, 'Well, I'm just really struggling with the fact that I can't see the woman I love.'" 

Eric and Kathleen Meredith pictured on their wedding day with Kathleen's son Abdiel. (Submitted by Eric Meredith)

The Merediths applied several times for a visitor visa for Kathleen, but were denied. In late March they began a process for him to sponsor her to Canada, along with her young son from a previous relationship.

Their application came back marked incomplete in September. That meant the family had to begin the application process again from the beginning. 

In September, the federal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada hoped to finalize about 6,000 spousal applications each month from October until December 2020, a rate that would lead to about 49,000 decisions by the end of the year.

Numbers provided to CBC News this month by the department show 3,728 cases were processed in October, 4,234 in November, and 2,219 between Dec. 1 and 15. The numbers do not include children of spouses.

The department also said it increased the number of decision-makers on spousal applications from 30 to 50, and it expects to process 48,000 applications by the end of the year. It said it has raised its capacity from about 38 per cent in March back to 90 per cent.

"We are committed to returning to our service standard of 12 months [for spousal applications] as quickly as possible," a communications advisor wrote in the statement. 

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino is shown in a file photo from an event in Germany. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The department said it does not track how many applications are rejected as incomplete, similar to the Merediths' application. 

The Merediths don't feel comforted by the department's goal of improving processing.

David Nurse, an immigration lawyer representing the family, said the section that was incomplete was about Kathleen's extended family, and included such information as the email addresses of her mother, father and siblings. 

Nurse does not feel this information was critical enough to derail the whole application. He said if IRCC had asked for the missing information rather than returning the whole package, the Merediths could easily have supplied it. 

"If we'd received an email, we could have returned the correct information within 24 hours or less," he said. "Instead, the whole application comes back, you know, eight months after it's submitted."

Eric Meredith said he would like to see faster processing times, but he feels that if permanent residency processing times are long enough that families are separated for a year or more, the process of reuniting using a visitor visa should be easier.