Online applications to sponsor family immigrants hit limit in less than 11 minutes

It took just minutes today for Canadians to snap up 27,000 online application spots for bringing parents or grandparents into the country — fuelling frustration and fury among people who say the new system is flawed.

First-come, first-served online system replaced controversial lottery for 2019 program

Cayo Whyte is pictured with his mother Juliette Murray, who he wants to sponsor to live in Canada. (Cayo White)

It took just minutes today for people to snap up 27,000 online application spots for bringing parents or grandparents into the country — fuelling frustration and fury among people who say the new system is flawed and unfair.

At noon ET today, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada opened up to applicants its online form for indicating interest in sponsoring a family member through the 2019 Parent and Grandparent Program.

Just eleven minutes later, the department tweeted that the applications received had met the annual limit and the form had been closed to new applicants.

A flood of angry complaints followed from frustrated would-be applicants, many of whom said they had cleared their schedules and set up their computers to fill out the online form — only to find it shut down within minutes.

"This is not a concert ticket you are selling, this is about uniting families. The whole process is atrocious," wrote Naimul Khan on Twitter.

Some called for an independent audit of IRCC's sponsorship process.

Cayo Whyte of Peterborough, Ont. took the day off work to fill out the form to sponsor his mother from Jamaica. He managed to get on the website and load the form — but by the time he completed it, the application window had closed.

"I feel so disappointed, so heartbroken, so stressed out. The words aren't there to describe how disappointed I feel," he told CBC News.

Whyte, who has been in Canada since 2009, said he has worked hard to advance his education and get a well-paid job.

"I am doing everything by the book but I cannot seem to make any headway in supporting my family in coming here," he said.

Whyte said the first-in process is particularly unfair to him because he took a bit longer — about three minutes — to fill out the form because he has a disability. His past attempts to sponsor his mom through the former lottery system were also unsuccessful.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada moved to an online first-come, first-served system for the 2019 parent and grandparent sponsorship program. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Toronto immigration lawyer Aris Daghighian said his office is exploring what appear to be system glitches that prevented some computers, IP addresses and applicants from accessing the link and the form until it was too late — even when the applicants had attempted to load the form at the specified time and frequently refreshed the page.

"It was always going to be a race, but it seems like some just weren't able to start the race," he said.

Some staff computers in his office were able to access and submit the form, while others were not.

He said a tweet issued by IRCC at roughly 12:07 ET said the form would be available "momentarily" but it was later deleted.

Possible legal action

Daghighian said that if there's evidence the process was procedurally unfair, his clients could consider legal action against IRCC.

Mathieu Genest, spokesman for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, said the department's initial analysis indicates that there were no technical glitches.

"We understand that those who were not able to make a submission are disappointed. We can confirm over 100,000 individuals attempted to access the interest to sponsor form," he said.

Family reunification is a "pillar" of the Liberal immigration policy, Genest said, noting that the government increased the intake of applications to 20,000 from the previous 5,000.

The online system was created to ensure the process was fair and had safeguards to prevent abuse, he said.

The Liberal government scrapped its controversial lottery system for reuniting immigrant families and adopted a first-come, first-served online system after an angry backlash from would-be sponsors.

Under the family reunification program, about 20,500 parents and grandparents will be admitted to Canada in 2019, and 21,000 next year.

This year, 27,000 were allowed to sign the "interest to sponsor" form online, accounting for duplication and errors. Eligible sponsors must provide proof of status and financial eligibility.

The previous lottery process itself replaced another first-in system. That system was unpopular because it led to a "mad rush" every January, with people lining up at the doors of the processing centre overnight or paying place-holders in the queue to deliver applications prepared by consultants or lawyers.

But the lottery system was also contentious, with critics calling it unjust because it was gambling with peoples' lives.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the process that many are panning as unfair is "consistent with a pattern of failures" by the Liberal government on immigration issues, including its handling of asylum seekers crossing into Canada from the U.S. outside official border points.

She said the Liberals "abdicated responsibility" by instituting a lottery system, but the new process only gave people who were following the rules mere minutes to submit their forms.

Parents and grandparents of Canadian citizens or permanent residents can also apply for a 'super visa', which allows them to extend a visit for up to two years after the initial entry into Canada.

There is also the option of a 10-year multiple-entry visa, which allows several visits of up to six months at a time.


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