Ottawa

Permanent residents in limbo waiting to immigrate to Canada

A backlog of some 23,000 aspiring immigrants with expired or soon-to-be expired documents are waiting to enter Canada. The government says it's working to get caught up, but some of them have gone months without any word.

Belongings sold, jobs lost or quit while waiting for an OK from Ottawa

Sameer Masih, left, and his family sold most of their belongings several months ago as they prepared to move from India to Canada. Their documents have since expired. (Supplied by Sameer Masih)

Aashray Kovi refreshes his email several times a day hoping for good news from Canadian immigration officials.

The 28-year-old computer programmer who lives in Bangalore, India, is one of about 23,000 aspiring immigrants with expired or soon-to-be expired documents waiting to enter Canada.

"It's really depressing for all of us," said Kovi, who plans to settle in Ottawa but can't travel because his confirmation of permanent residency (COPR) document expired in early June, prior to travel restrictions being lifted.  

Late last month, the federal government lifted some COVID-19 restrictions, allowing anyone with a valid COPR to enter Canada, but that didn't help Kovi's case.

Despite having started the immigration process in 2018, Kovi says he's never struggled to get clear answers from the government until this point. He says he's been emailing and calling for weeks, waiting for the documents to be reissued, but has had no luck getting an answer on when he can expect to arrive in Ottawa.

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Sophie and Carlos Ballesteros got ready to make a move to Canada months ago, lining up jobs and bank accounts in Halifax. But border closures prevented the couple from moving and their confirmation documents expired in June. 1:14

"I know it is not simple, there is COVID, the only issue with all of this is a lack of communication," said Kovi.

"If provided with better communication, I could wait till 2022, but this is putting my life in limbo." 

Sameer Masih, his wife and son are similarly stuck in a mostly empty apartment in New Delhi, seven months after they got their initial approvals and started selling their belongings. 

"I am actually surviving on a bare minimum setup," said Masih. He says the wait cost him a job at his employer's Toronto office.

'It's hard for my family'

Sophie Ballesteros, from Barcelona, had a job lined up in Halifax and her husband, Carlos, quit his in January to ready himself for the move to Canada. The delay has been devastating for the couple, who started their immigration process in November 2019.

Carlos says he left his job because the permanent residency invitation told him to get his affairs in order, and he felt he had just a certain amount of time to immigrate or else he'd lose out on his dream of moving to Canada.

Aashray Kovi, a 28-year old from Bangalore, is stuck in India until his permanent residence documents get renewed. (Submitted by Aashray Kovi)

Their COPR documents also expired in June and there's been no word yet on when they'll be renewed.

The only communication they've received from the government was in March, when a generic email advised them that a previous communication of theirs had been received and that they would need to continue waiting.

"This is the first time in my life that I am unemployed," said Carlos. "I don't sleep at night."

Sophie says she is struggling to immerse in her new digital marketing job in Canada while staying physically in Barcelona, and also trying to find a preschool for her four-year-old daughter.

"I have to work within the time zone of Canada and sometimes there are some clients that are from Vancouver," she said. "It's hard for my family."

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino acknowledged that global migration has been a nuisance for many people and that officials are working to help permanent residency holders into the country.

"We know that these disruptions have had a significant impact on many people hoping to start a new life in Canada, and we thank them for their patience at this difficult moment," Alexander Cohen said in a statement.

Sophie and Carlos Ballesteros hope to resettle in Halifax, but the Spanish couple doesn't know when their expired permanent residence documents will be renewed. (Supplied by Carlos Ballesteros)

Holding pattern

Immigration lawyer Kyle Hyndman, in Vancouver, estimates more than half of those holding expired COPR documents are skilled workers who were chosen "to contribute to the Canadian labour market."

He says communication from the federal government has been messy. He says sending documents that would expire to incoming residents, with directions to get their affairs in order, created a sense of working against the clock.

"These people are kind of in a holding pattern … you do a bunch of things to get ready to move that are kind of hard to undo," Hyndman said.

Cohen says the pandemic has significantly impacted immigration processing times, and that the government will be contacting individuals with expired papers in the "weeks and months to come." 

Canada permitted 184,000 immigrants last year — the fewest since 1998 — compared to 341,000 in 2019. The government is aiming to jump-start immigration with 400,000 new residents per year for the next three years.

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