Immigration Visa Officers Doing The Best They Can

By Pace Law | June 24, 2011

by James Metcalfe – Pace Law Firm: There was an article in the Toronto Star, decrying the fact that overseas visa officers are ill-prepared to make a determination as to who is eligible to be accepted as Convention Refugees to Canada. The article was a follow-up to a case in which a federal court judge ruled that approximately 40 Eritrean refugee claimants had been improperly refused by the Canadian Embassy in Cairo, Egypt. The Star‘s story also indicated that there was a 50% refusal rate amongst overseas refugee claimants.

Since I used to be a Canadian visa officer outside of Canada, I can relate to the predicament of officers who have to make decisions on refugee cases.

By nature, visa officers are generalists. They have to know a little bit about a lot. They must consider persons wishing to come to Canada under a multitude of programs, selection criteria, and categories.

“I have been where the overseas officers are. I have interviewed refugees in camps, on boats and in detention centers. I know the conditions that visa officers face.”

In Canada, determinations as to refugee eligibility falls to the Immigration and Refugee Board. Members of the refugee section are trained in the art of determining who the refugees are, and they are supported by research staff. Conversely, the visa officer may be sitting in the refugee camp halfway around the world, with only a translator to assist them.

I believe it is unfair for critics to blame the officers responsible in the above court case. Though visa officers may be cynical after hearing the same story repeated time and again, I do not believe they are mean spirited. If 50% of claimants are refused, then 50% are approved. These are similar numbers to the acceptance of refugees inside Canada.

I have been where the overseas officers are. I have interviewed refugees in camps, on boats and in detention centers. I know the conditions that visa officers face, and I can sympathize with the officers concerned. It is not an easy job to do. It is the critics that have the easy job.