Lives on hold, potential immigrants devastated by pandemic delays

Hopeful immigrants to Canada say they've quit their jobs, sold their homes and put their lives on hold — only to be paralyzed by the processing delays and lack of communication from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Mohammad Gharachorloo says lack of answers on applications 'mentally torturing'

From left to right, Mohammad Gharachorloo, Aditi Karande and Gerard Okonkwo. These outland permanent residency applicants say they've put their lives on hold during the pandemic, waiting for Canada to process their PR applications. (Submitted by Mohammad Gharachorloo, Aiditi Karande and Gerard Okonkwo)

Hopeful immigrants to Canada say they've quit their jobs, sold their homes and put their lives on hold — only to be paralyzed by the processing delays and lack of communication from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

Mohammad Gharachorloo, who lives in Iran, applied for permanent residency (PR) under Canada's federal skilled worker program in April 2019. He's one of dozens of outland PR applicants — from Vietnam, Dubai, Tunisia to Bangladesh — who emailed CBC News sharing their hardships due to pandemic delays.

The IRCC website estimates six months to process a PR application for federal skilled workers.

Gharachorloo, who has been waiting 22 months and wants to move to Ottawa, said the lack of answers from IRCC is "mentally torturing."

"After a while, you start to feel strongly, strongly — and I can't stress this enough — strongly discriminated against."

With a dream to join Canada's tech industry, Gharachorloo quit his well-paying job as a software engineer last February to move on short notice. Since then, he's been freelancing low-paying jobs, living paycheque to paycheque.

You want at least ... some acknowledgement.- Mohammad Gharachorloo

Gharachorloo said the last step for his application was completed a year ago. He said he called his Ottawa visa office several times, but mainly got generic responses. He started a petition on behalf of outland PR applicants having difficulty with delays.

"You want some answers," he said. "You want at least ... some acknowledgement."

WATCH | This isn't just my story:

Hoping to move to Canada, permanent residency applicants are being left in limbo

2 years ago
Duration 1:16
Mohammad Gharachorloo. who lives in Iran and has applied for permanent residency status in Canada, says the process of waiting for a response from the government has been frustrating and has left him unable to plan for the future.

Plans to have 2nd baby at 'standstill,' says mom

Joy Okereke applied in March 2020. She wanted better education, health care and safety for her family — something she said is lacking in Nigeria.

"Every day, my little daughter asks me when we are going to begin packing our bags," Okereke said in an email. Her application was completed last year but she's waiting for her confirmation of PR.

This indefinite silence from IRCC is taking its toll on my mental health.- Joy Okereke

To move to Canada within six months, Okereke and her husband didn't renew their rental lease, didn't enrol their child into a new school term and turned down jobs. They also stalled plans to have a second child and are now digging into their savings for unplanned expenses.

"Our lives are completely at a standstill," she said. "This indefinite silence from IRCC is taking its toll on my mental health and I fear that I might have a breakdown if nothing is done."

Joy Okereke and her daughter. The family in Nigeria is waiting for the go-ahead to move to Canada, after Okereke applied for permanent residency in March 2020, days before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. (Submitted by Joy Okereke)

Gerard Okonkwo, also in Nigeria, said the delays cost him his relationship with his now ex-girlfriend who wasn't keen on moving due to Canada's harsh winters. He was hoping to convince her after his PR was approved.

"She has completely given up on me. She doesn't take my word," said Okonkwo, who applied for his PR in October 2019. "The anxiety and doubt and lack of clarity from IRCC made us drift apart even more."

To get some answers, Okonkwo requested GCMS (Global Case Management System) notes from IRCC, a way applicants can get a detailed overview of their file. It said his case was last worked on in January 2020. 

"I was worried because it's such a long time," he said. "Each time I contacted IRCC via phone or via email, they always tell me that my application is in queue for final review."

He contacted IRCC Minister Marco Mendicino and a few MPs, but said they too gave him generic responses.

Gerard Okonkwo in a lab in the Netherlands in 2017 where he was sampling trees collected for Dendroclimatology assessment. (Submitted by Gerard Okonkwo)

Okonkwo, currently a research assistant, said he's given up jobs and scholarships while waiting for his dream move to Ottawa. He wants to do more schooling and work in his field of interest — forestry and climate change — and is already in touch with some Canadian professors.

"I'm not the only one," he said. "A lot of people are depressed because lack of clarity."

Sold home and living with parents

Keivan Naghizadeh sold his house last summer, switched from full-time to part-time work, and moved in with his parents because his application's estimated completion date was June 24, 2020.

The Iran-native applied for PR in December 2019 after visiting his Canadian sister a year prior. He travelled to Ottawa on Canada Day, and fell in love.

"I told myself it seems like a place I want to grow old in," said the 33-year-old mechanical engineer. 

Keivan Naghizadeh visited his Canadian sister in Vaughan, Ont., in 2018, and fell in love with Canada, and applied for PR a year later. (Submitted by Keivan Naghizade)

Naghizadeh's application has been stalled for nine months now. The lack of answers from IRCC is keeping him from renting a new place to finding a longer-term job.

"Uncertainty about the future is the most frustrating thing I've experienced."

Prioritizing those who can currently travel: IRCC

IRCC did not respond to CBC's questions regarding these applicants' delays and concerns over lack of communication.

But in an emailed response, IRCC said it's currently prioritizing applicants who are eligible to travel to Canada under its current restrictions — like those who got their confirmation of permanent residency on or before March 18, 2020, is an immediate family member of a Canadian, or are sponsored.

The department said it's extending deadlines and no applications will be refused due to pandemic delays.

"We are unable to provide specific timelines," it said.

But those timelines are important, said 25-year-old Aditi Karande living in India, who's been in limbo since November 2019.

Karande said recruiters in Canada have contacted her for job opportunities but she "can't do anything" as companies want a timeline for when she can arrive.

"I can't commit to anybody," she said. "You can't just keep people in the dark."

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