Ottawa

Family's 2-year wait for grandmother's visitor visa finally ends

Charlotte Clarke waited more than two years for a visa for her mother, Victoria, that others get within weeks. Now she's here, but they want to warn others who are still in limbo.

Charlotte Clarke reapplied for mom's visa and it was processed in 5 weeks

Two women stand at a doorway together.
Victoria Clarke, left, and her daughter Charlotte Clarke pose together in Charlotte's Ottawa home. Victoria told CBC she's relieved after waiting more than two years for a visitor visa and a chance to to hug her grandchildren in Canada. (Priscilla Ki Sun Hwang/CBC)

A second application, a $100 fee and more than two years later, an Ottawa woman who demanded to know why her 79-year-old mother's visa application fell through the cracks says the family's wait is finally over.

Charlotte Clarke told CBC News this July her family was exhausted from wondering why her mother, Victoria, was left waiting so long for a visa that others were getting within weeks.

Now, she's finally arrived in Canada for her long-sought visit to see her grandchildren.

"It seemed just unreal to me," Charlotte Clarke said, reflecting back on the journey. "It was infuriating."

Clarke had helped her mother, who lives in the western African country of Gambia, apply for a temporary visa in October 2020 with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the federal department that processes immigration applications and visas.

Clarke's father Malcolm died of COVID-19 in August of that year. Her mother had been his main caretaker for years, and Clarke said she wanted her to take a break and visit her two children and grandchildren in Ottawa.

Earlier this month, she landed in Ottawa having finally received her visitor's visa after reapplying this September.

This time, it took about five weeks for IRCC to process their second application from start to finish.

"We were overjoyed, obviously, and everybody was happy for her because two years is a long time," said Clarke.

"I feel good ... But the journey to be with her was not exactly a pleasant one," Victoria Clarke said, looking at Charlotte from the kitchen table in her Ottawa home.

"That sums it up — relief."

Two women sit at a red kitchen table.
Charlotte Clarke, left, hugs her mom Victoria Clarke at her kitchen table. Charlotte says the lack of communication and long wait for her mother's visa — which should take a few weeks to process — was 'infuriating.' (Priscilla Ki Sun Hwang/CBC)

Stuck applicants worried, 'baffled' about reapplying

In response to the Clarke family's story, IRCC had told CBC some applicants can reapply for their visas, especially if they had not received a response yet and applied before Sept. 7, 2021 — the date the Canadian government finally opened its borders to fully vaccinated travellers.

Since publishing their story, CBC has heard from dozens of others who've also waited years for their family members' visas from around the world. They've wondered if reapplying was the best route, as they'd be throwing away time and money and starting from scratch.

Said Izawi, who lives in Montreal, is one of them.

He said he passed his "second anniversary" of waiting for his parents' super visa last Sunday, after helping them apply to come from Syria on Nov. 20, 2020.

It has no logic behind it whatsoever. Like, why?- Said Izawi

"I was very naive. I was hoping that they would come and spend Christmas 2020 with us," said Izawi, who hasn't seen his parents in five years. "Christmas 2021 came by and went ... now we're in 2022."

Izawi said his family is "baffled" by IRCC's suggestion that applicants reapply.

"It has no logic behind it whatsoever. Like, why?" he said. "It doesn't make sense ... why somebody would need to do that. What about the other application?"

A man and woman smile at the camera.
Said Izawi's parents are seen here. Izawi has been waiting more than two years for their super visa from IRCC and said he's 'baffled' at IRCC's advice that he should spend thousands and reapply for their visas again. (Submitted by Said Izawi)

IRCC charges a $100 fee per person to apply for a visa. The medical insurance Izawi bought for his parents — a requirement for a super visa — cost about $4,000 and has since expired. 

"It's money being flushed down the drain," Izawi said. "It's an application that I've been waiting on two years — I'm going to have to kill it now and start a new one? And only God knows how long it will take."

IRCC did not give a direct answer to CBC's question about the now-expired medical insurance, saying the family's application has been in the "background checks" phase since February 2021.

IRCC explains why some visas were left behind

An IRCC spokesperson explained that between March 2020 and Sept. 6, 2021, the department prioritized applications from those who were exempt from COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Visa applications submitted before Sept. 7, 2021 were placed in a "queue for non-urgent processing," the IRCC said.

That led to the "accumulation of a large inventory of visitor visa applications," according to the department.

IRCC began working through the backlog, but said most of those earlier applications would take longer due to their "complexity as a result of potentially outdated documents and information" and "changing circumstances."

That's why they are asking some people to reapply, the department said.

People enter the C.D. Howe Building in downtown Ottawa, which houses Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, last winter. IRCC says many applications made before Canada lifted travel restrictions could include documents that are now outdated. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

IRCC also said those who withdraw applications may be eligible for refunds — only if the agency hasn't started processing them.

But its website says there is "no guarantee," and what's more, applicants won't get written confirmation that they've been withdrawn.

That's part of the issue, Clarke said.

"It seems unfair [for IRCC] to receive ... all of these payments ... [and] you're now saying your application is null and void," she said. "How can you conscionably keep their money?"

While Clarke said she too worried about submitting a new application, even though it worked out quickly, it didn't come without challenges.

She warned that IRCC's online portal isn't intuitive and said she sought help from a family member "in tears."

Still, Clarke has an answer for any applicants unsure about what to do.

"My advice would be to firstly reapply."

Two teenagers and one woman sit on a couch, holding a photo of another woman and a baby.
From left to right, Adetunde Celine Joseph, Charlotte Clarke and Geneva Clarke are seen this summer holding a photo of Victoria Clarke, who at that point was still in Gambia. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Priscilla Ki Sun Hwang

Reporter/Editor

Priscilla Ki Sun Hwang is a reporter with CBC News based in Ottawa. She's worked with the investigative unit, CBC Toronto, and CBC North in Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Iqaluit. She has a Master of Journalism from Carleton University. Want to contact her? Email priscilla.hwang@cbc.ca

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