PEI

P.E.I. father separated from wife, son due to immigration processing delays

Canadian families are waiting longer than they're supposed to for spousal sponsorship decisions through the federal immigration department, with the pandemic slowing processing times.

'I cannot do it any longer alone'

Mohamed Khashaba speaks with his wife, Sara Saad, and son, Yahia, in Egypt every day while waiting for a decision on her spousal sponsorship application. (John Robertson/CBC)

It was disappointing for Mohamed Khashaba that his son Yahia wouldn't begin Grade 1 this year on P.E.I.

"School here for him will be great," Khashaba said. "Two years ago, his mother is trying to teach him little of English, just preparing him, [so] when he come here in Canada, he will not be shocked."

Instead, his son remains in Damietta, Egypt, with his mother Sara Saad. While Khashaba and his son are Canadian citizens, his wife of eight years is not.

"By the time he was born in Egypt, I was already a Canadian here," Khashaba said. "So he got his citizenship certificate but the thing is — how can he travel without his mother? Like we are a package — a family together."

In March 2019, Khashaba applied for his wife to join him in Canada through the immigration process for spouses. Neither Saad nor their son, Yahia, has been to Canada before.

The last time Khashaba was able to see them in person was during a visit to Egypt in November 2019.

Sara Saad, Mohamed Khashaba and their son Yahia during time spent together in Egypt. (Submitted by Mohamed Khashaba)

According to the federal Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website, an application of this nature should take about 12 months.

In a written statement to the CBC News on Aug.18, the department said the global pandemic "has resulted in unprecedented challenges at the border."

"The health and safety of people who use the immigration system and staff remains a top priority," the statement said. 

Mohamed Khashaba and wife Sara Saad were married in 2012. (Submitted by Mohamed Khashaba)

IRCC officials said they continue to accept and process applications during the pandemic "notwithstanding that our operational capacity remains at a limited capacity both domestically and abroad."

On Sept. 24, the department announced it was increasing the number of decision makers on spousal applications in Canada by 66 per cent. The plan is to use new technologies to allow staff working from home to deal with the complicated documents keeping privacy and security in mind.

Our government will continue to find new ways to keep families together.— Minister of Immigration Marco Mendicino

"We understand that the last few months have not been easy for those who are far from their loved ones in these difficult times," said Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino in the statement.

"This is why we are accelerating the approval of spousal applications as much as possible. Our government will continue to find new ways to keep families together."

The plan is to work through the backlog at a higher speed, with the goal of having almost 50,000 decisions made by the end of the year.

Movement for change

Other Canadians are facing similar extended wait times. During the pandemic, a grassroots movement rose up called the Spousal Sponsorship Advocates.

Misha Pelletier, one of the organizers, is waiting for updates on her husband's application from Tunisia. Their application went out in July 2019.

Misha Pelletier with Mohamed Jihed Ben Yahia during their wedding in Tunisia on July 14, 2019. (Submitted by Misha Pelletier)

"We are trying to come up with solutions in order for our files to be treated in a timely manner," Pelletier said.

"And one of those solutions would be a special temporary visa, which would give access to having our spouses with us while our sponsorships are being processed."

Pelletier said members have been trying to obtain temporary resident visas but applications are denied based on article 179b of the immigration and refugee protection regulations — a section that states one of the conditions for granting a temporary visa is that the officer must believe the applicant will leave the country once it has expired.

"Why would somebody put at risk a permanent residency because they're visiting their spouse?" Pelletier asked.

"I mean, who wants to work in the black market all their life when they can receive a permanent residency?"

Protesters at a rally in Montreal on Aug. 8 wore red as a symbol of love, as they called on government to reunite them with their families. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

The group organized rallies in different major centres in the country including Montreal and Edmonton. A petition with over 6,000 signatures was tabled in the House of Commons.

Another online petition had over 16,000 signatures at the beginning of October.

The group has written letters to the government and has an active online presence to get the word out to politicians and other Canadians.

There is babies being born and fathers seeing their children through FaceTime.— Misha Pelletier, Spousal Sponsorship Advocates

Pelletier said it has been a challenge for many families who can only communicate through video conferencing.

"I must say that this is not the way a relationship should be, on a screen," she said. "There is babies being born and fathers seeing their children through FaceTime."

Pelletier said the group is pleased to see the government working to deal with the backlog and reunite families but said there are still many barriers in place.

A line of communication has opened between the minister's office and the advocacy group, Pelletier said, and they are hopeful that will lead to change.

'I need my family'

Khashaba said the government's effort to work through more applications hasn't changed the fact that his family has been waiting for 19 months since they first applied.

Yahia sitting with his mother, Sara Saad, as they speak with Khashaba via video link — something they do every day since they last saw each other in person a year ago. (John Robertson/CBC)

He said his wife applied for a temporary resident visa in early September so they could see each another in person for the first time in nearly a year.

The application was denied — because of article 179b — leaving the family to continue waiting for the federal government to work through spousal sponsorship applications.

Khashaba, his wife and son talk through video calls every day, he said, but it's not the same as being together in person.

"It means actually, emotionally, I am complete," Khashaba said. "I need my family, I cannot do it any longer alone."

More from CBC P.E.I.

About the Author

John Robertson

Video journalist

John Robertson is a multi-platform journalist based out of Charlottetown. He has been with CBC News for more than a decade, with stints in Nunavut, Edmonton and Prince Edward Island. John.Robertson@cbc.ca Twitter @CBCJRobertson Instagram @johnrobertsoncbc

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