Work permit backlog keeps Pelee Island Ferry deckhand in limbo

Daniel Torres can't get the promotion he's qualified for, along with better pay, OHIP benefits and employment insurance, because his application for permanent residency status has been held up due to ongoing backlogs at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Perfect storm of red tape to blame for IRCC delay of over a year, says immigration lawyer

A man stands in front of a ferry boat.
Daniel Torres stands in front of the Pelee Island II in Kingsville, Ont., where he works as a deckhand. Torres is unable to achieve promotions in his career, even though he has the training, due to a backlog at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Daniel Torres has been in Canada since 2017, receiving his advanced diploma in marine technology and navigation from Georgian College in Owen Sound, Ont., last year.

The Peruvian immigrant applied for his post-graduate work permit in May 2021 and permanent residency status in July last year, believing it would be granted well before his student visa expired in November. But he is still waiting.

"So all I want is the minister of immigration can look at my case and my application can be processed," said Torres, who works as a deckhand on the Pelee Islander II.

His employer is the Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC). This year, the Pelee Islander II ferry operates from April to early December, with round trips (each way taking about an hour and a half) between Pelee Island in Lake Erie and Leamington in southwestern Ontario. 

Torres's education qualifies him to be an officer of the watch on the ferry — a position that pays around $70,000 a year. He currently only makes about $22 an hour and is able to work in Canada while waiting for his work permit application to be processed. But that could take many more months due to ongoing backlogs at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

Without the work permit and residency status, Torres can't get a Transport Canada licence, which he needs to hold the higher position.

Cars drive onto the back of a docked ferry.
The Pelee Islander II gets ready to load vehicles in Kingsville, Ont. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

"I don't have the benefits of medical care, OHIP, employment insurance, any other benefit that a full-time employee has," said Torres.

In addition, Torres said, he hopes relatives in Peru don't get sick either, because if he left the country, he wouldn't be able to return to Canada. He can only continue to work here if he stays here.

The OSTC has already said he could have a second-mate position — which his officer of the watch status allows — once he gets his Transport Canada licence.

"Daniel is a valued employee at OSTC. He's hard working and ambitious, but unfortunately has lost out on many opportunities due to licence requirements," said Capt. Paul Mancini, director of operations at Pelee Transportation Services, adding he lost out on promotions three times due to his situation.

"Once Daniel is issued a licence, the OSTC hopes to promote Daniel and encourage his officer career," said Mancini.

To add to Torres's frustration, he said he sees refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan getting work permits in days while as a taxpayer, he languishes without one. During the off-season, he has to find some temporary work because he can't get employment insurance benefits.

IRCC delay could last years; lawyer 

Immigration lawyer Eddie Kadri said that unfortunately, he doesn't see the IRCC backlog being cleared for about two more years, and believes Torres still has many more months to wait.

"Unfortunately there's almost like a perfect storm, a combination of so many different factors," said Kadri, pointing to the inventory of COVID-19-related applications, a higher than usual number of applications that have been received, a reduced number of visa officers in an already strained system, and the prioritizing of humanitarian applications from Ukraine and Afghanistan.

"it's not like you can just hire 1,200 new people to take on these roles because they need to be trained and that training is comprehensive. It takes time," said Kadri.

As of the end of July, approximately 1.3 million immigration applications in the system have taken longer to process than the government's service standards dictate they should. That's about 54 per cent of all the pending applications in the system.

Torres has enlisted the help of Liberal MP Chris Bittle's office in St. Catharines. Torres lives in Kingsville, Ont., now but originally reached out to the MP while living in St. Catharines last year.

Bittle's office provided Torres with a letter, which confirms his "maintained status," that he can give to employers proving he can legally work in Canada. The letter reads in part, "As per the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, Mr. Torres is entitled to remain in Canada and continue working while his post-graduation work permit is in progress."

Bittle sent a statement to CBC News saying they won't comment on Torres's case, but wrote: "Our office will always assist the residents of St Catharines with issues pertaining to the federal government."



Dale Molnar

Video Journalist

Dale Molnar is a video journalist at CBC Windsor. He is a graduate of the University of Windsor and has worked in television, radio and print. He has received a number of awards including an RTDNA regional TV news award and a New York Festivals honourable mention.

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