PEI

Immigration office to reopen in Charlottetown

P.E.I. newcomers will soon have on-Island access to a federal immigration office.

Previous office was closed in 2012

This family from Somalia, who immigrated to P.E.I. as refugees, are hopeful an immigration office in Charlottetown will make the process of sponsoring more family members easier. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

P.E.I. newcomers will soon have on-Island access to a federal immigration office. 

Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen announced plans for the new Charlottetown office, as part of a stop in the P.E.I. capital Wednesday. 

The previous office, operated by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, was shut down in 2012.

Charlottetown Liberal MP Sean Casey says he's long been pushing his own government to get it reopened. 

"Governments in general don't move at a speed that's known to cause whiplash. I'm happy to see it today. I would've been happier to see it last year. But better late than never quite frankly," said Casey. 

Charlottetown MP Sean Casey says he's long been pushing his own government to reopen the city's immigration office, which closed in 2012. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

According to the federal government's news release, office staff will work on permanent residency applications, settlement services, and citizenship testing. They will also spend some time in other Island communities, providing services to "more remote and rural locations with roving capabilities."

For people, especially refugees who don't have a lot of money, it's expensive to get certain documentation dealt with in another province.- Craig Mackie, P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada

Casey says he's witnessed the need for that in-person support. 

He says newcomers regularly visit his Charlottetown constituency office, looking for help filling out documents and communicating with immigration staff at other offices in the region. 

"Those services, until today, were unavailable through any other means except internet and phone," said Casey. "And you have people that sometimes have challenge with the language, sometimes have a challenge with access to technology that need a hand up. And we see them every day."

'There's the bridge toll, there's gas' 

Craig Mackie, executive director of the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada, says the new office will also save clients from having to travel to other provinces for services that have to be done in-person, like citizenship testing and fingerprinting. 

"There's the bridge toll, there's gas, if they have to stay overnight, there's a hotel room," said Mackie. "So for people, especially refugees who don't have a lot of money, it's expensive to get certain documentation dealt with in another province. So this is a good news story for those clients."

Ubah Ali says she regularly visits Charlottetown MP Sean Casey's office, in an effort to get help sponsoring family members living at refugee camps in Kenya. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Ubah Ali — who moved to P.E.I. as a Somali refugee a decade ago — says she's hopeful the new office will make her life easier.

For years she's been trying to sponsor family members living at United Nations refugee camps in Kenya, so they can join her and other relatives here on the Island. 

"We're usually in Sean Casey's office, which is really helpful and do what they can for us," she said. "But the paperwork is very difficult.... It's not easy."

Officials with the federal Immigration Department say it's not clear exactly when the new office will be opened, or where it will be located. 

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