Immigrants face financial, emotional ruin as plans to resettle in Canada are clipped by COVID-19
People with expired immigration documents plead for federal government's help
Those who were on the verge of immigrating to Canada before the pandemic struck say the government's sluggish effort to renew their immigration documents is causing them profound financial and emotional stress.
Thousands of approved applicants have been trapped in limbo because border closures delayed their departures, resulting in expired authorizations. Many had already sold their homes, liquidated their assets and pulled their children from school and are now stuck in their home countries.
One of them was Harleen Kaur, who was set to lay down new roots with her husband and their two daughters.
"I had tears in my eyes when I had to open my suitcase, the kids' suitcase, and take the clothes out. Unpacking had been a difficult thing and I don't know when we'll be asked to pack again and move to Canada," she said.
Kaur, who has a PhD in biotechnology, said her family has been living like refugees in their native India since they sold their property and most of their furniture in anticipation of the move to Canada.
She said she is increasingly exasperated by the lack of communication from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Despite sending emails and filling out online forms, she said, she has been unable to nail down a timeframe for resolving her case.
'Why are you still here?'
Kaur said her situation feels like a dead end.
"It has emotionally been very draining because we are using our savings that we had saved for Canada, and now we are just depleting it. Our careers have come to a stall and emotionally, it's very, very exhausting," she said.
"Socially, we have become a subject of either mockery or sympathy when people ask, 'Why are you still here? You already sold your furniture, how are you managing?'"
IRCC officials recently told MPs on the immigration committee that the department is dealing with about 10,000 cases of expired confirmation of permanent residency (CoPR). The department started reaching out to affected families in September and has so far contacted about 6,000 of them. Fewer than a thousand have received the necessary authorization and have landed in Canada, officials said.
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the process of eliminating the backlog is well underway, but it's a laborious process.
"Officers have been reaching out directly to determine client eligibility and willingness to travel and reopen files as necessary. These efforts often require more time and effort than usual, but we will soon have contacted everyone affected," he said.
Flights grounded to curb COVID-19 spread
For Olha Lambina, who was born in Ukraine and is now living in Qatar, the wait has been excruciating.
She had booked a ticket, quit her job and was already packing to join her partner to build a new life in Canada. Her travel plans were abruptly cancelled when flights were grounded around the globe to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Lambina has been filling out online forms and submitting documents to prove she is ready to move here permanently, and that she has a quarantine plan for her arrival.
But she has gotten only automated responses from IRCC advising her that her forms have been received — no personalized communications.
"It is an incredibly stressful situation to be in, in addition to the pandemic. There is no clarity when there will be any response from the IRCC team or what their further instructions will be," she said.
"I've been looking forward to moving to Canada for so long and now it is heartbreaking not to be able to start my life there with my boyfriend and our future ahead of us."
'We should be treating them with more dignity'
Conservative immigration critic Raquel Dancho said Mendicino and IRCC officials have been "evasive" about their plans to help people stranded in their countries of origin — many of whom quit their jobs in preparation for the move.
"You need to recognize the urgency ... for a lot of these people who presumably are going to come to Canada, contribute to our economy, become Canadians one day," she said. "We should be treating them with more dignity in recognizing verbally and publicly the challenges that they're going through and that hasn't happened to date."
NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the process of having IRCC officials reach out to each applicant — even when they already had been approved before the pandemic — is inefficient and a waste of resources. She's calling on the government to take a blanket approach and honour all of the applications approved for permanent resident status.
"They would be able to come automatically and they would not be jammed in the system with an expired certificate of permanent residence, and would save the staffing resources of having to go through this arduous process ... which the officials themselves acknowledge is extremely time-consuming," she said.
Aditya Madan said he has submitted more than 20 online forms and multiple emails to his local visa office in Mumbai, but has received so far only generic responses in return.
His mounting frustration has prompted him to launch social media campaigns to push IRCC to act. His financial fears have been growing since he quit his job as a social media marketing professional — before his dreams of immigrating to Canada were dashed.
"Financial losses are still nothing when compared to the mental stress and anxiety that's caused because of this delay and IRCC's failure at handling the entire situation," he said. "I've dealt with sleepless nights, extremely low days, and even thoughts about abandoning my immigration dream altogether."
Madan said he also fears that the career disruption caused by the delays will raise questions for potential employers.
"The dilemma is whether to take up a new job in my home country and reset my life, or wait for just another month, and another one, and another," he said.