Is The Canadian Visitor Visa System Discriminatory

By James Metcalfe | February 23, 2016

James Metcalfe - Director of ImmigrationJim Metcalfe – Director of Immigration: Is there discrimination in Canada’s visitor visa system? David Mattas says yes:

A lawyer specializing in human rights and immigration believes that the Canadian immigration system is discriminatory when granting visitor visas.

Former Canadian delegate to the United Nations David Matas believes it is “almost impossible” for a tourist to visit Canada, if they do not meet certain “generic criteria,” because Citizenship and Immigration Canada wants to make sure that visitors return to their home country when their visa expires instead of making a refugee claim.

This is often the case when the applicant is from a country plagued by political or economic instability, Matas said.

“For these countries, I think there is discrimination. [CIC] does not consider the circumstances of individuals, it considers generic criteria such as: Are you rich? Do you have children?,” he said. 

While I cannot disagree with David Mattas that there seems to be discrimination in the visitor visa system, I think the problem is less sinister than it might sound. The real problem is systemic and lies in the changes made some years ago to how visa applicants are vetted.

Visitor Visa Application Process Is Flawed

One of the issues with the visitor visa system today is that decisions are being made not by visa Canada-based visa officers posted abroad. Rather, the applications are filtered through locally engaged clerical staff or vetted by locally engaged individuals who are designated as visa officers. In my days with the visa office, Canadian visa officers had a chance to decide on who could come and go to Canada. Now, it’s done by people who are more or less just following a template. If you’re on the wrong part of that template, too bad for you.

The problems increase when you combine this with the fact that there is little or no direct contact between visa applicants and officers. In the past, a two minute interview in the field could solve everything. Now, visitor visa applications are normally filed through Visa Application Centres (VACs) and are then forwarded to embassies or consulates for review. Since the applicant is not there to state their case, and the visa officer can’t ask for information that might tip the scales, out comes the rubber stamp.

I searched the web for any internal reviews undertaken by the Auditor General of Canada on visa posts abroad and could find nothing. I think it’s time that the process of issuing visas be reviewed and the process becomes more transparent as to who is making decisions.