Canadian and US Immigration Lawyer Andy Semotiuk: In the course of last year’s Canadian election campaign, Justin Trudeau promised a variety of measures to improve Canada’s immigration system. They included:
- speeding up family reunification proceedings and doubling the budget for that purpose
- eliminating the two-year wait time for obtaining permanent residence for spouses of Canadians
- doubling (from 5,000 to 10,000) the number of parents and grandparents who would be able to immigrate to Canada per year
- giving extra points to siblings applying under Express Entry
- raising the age of dependent children from 19 to 22
All of these are good ideas but they were placed on the back burner as the government dealt with their promise of immigrating 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada. Now that this promise has been kept, the government should make good on its previous statements.
Spousal Sponsorship Delays
The area that will likely have the best chance of immediate success is the promise to double the budget for processing immigration applications. This would be particularly helpful if it eliminates the two-year waiting period for foreign spouses to be processed in Canada.
The current two-year wait time for internal spousal sponsorship cases involves police, security, and medical checks. These items can no doubt can be sped up but not eliminated. It would be wise to grant the foreign spouses permission to work if they can produce a credible marriage certificate or other evidence of a subsisting relationship. This would at least keep the couples together and remove the financial hardship of lost income until the necessary background checks can be completed.
Parent and Grandparent Sponsorship
Trudeau’s promise to help parents and grandparents is a more daunting challenge. Today, only 5,000 parent/grandparent sponsorship applications are accepted per year. The cap is reached so fast that if you put in an application in the middle of January, you’re already too late. But it’s almost irrelevant. Even if your application gets in on time, the delay for getting in to Canada can be as long as nine years.
As you can see, the government’s promise of doubling the number of parents/grandparents from 5,000 to 10,000 means little. Without speeding up processing times, doubling the cap just means longer lines and longer waits.
These examples reveal the underlying problem with immigration processing: the lack of a systematic approach that will meet targets. The public sector can and should learn from companies like Amazon or Apple, where not meeting your targets is deemed unacceptable.
Learning From The Pros
If Trudeau really wants to improve processing times in these and other areas of immigration, he should invite practical advisors, including ones from the private sector, to advise the government on how to improve Canada’s immigration system. Fact is, most government officials haven’t been on the other end of the phone when trying to get things done through their ministries. It’s often difficult and confusing even for experts.
10 Ways To Improve Immigration
If I were on the panel of advisors, I would humbly recommend:
- Provide advance notice to the immigration community of a change in application forms. You would be surprised how many cases need to start from scratch because an old form was used when you didn’t know the new form existed.
- Direct government officials and staff to pick up the phone and call the applicant or their representative to clear up minor details.
- Consolidate the current fee payment procedure. Why should each government office have different payment policies?
- Improve the function of the national call centres. No more 90-minute waits to talk to someone and then getting cut off or worse yet, simply no one picking up.
- Introduce clear, one-address contacts for all immigration processing offices. This would include overseas consulates and visa application centres for mailing, couriers and personal visits. There is nothing as frustrating as receiving a letter of denial from an office with no return address, phone number or email contact.
- Adopt a system of one file number for each client to eliminate confusion and duplication. Why use multiple file numbers to track a file? If John Smith was the first into the computer in 2016, then he is File No. 2016-1. Keep it that way for everybody.
- Implement checklists for all applications, with documents identified by name and number. That way everyone knows what each file requires.
- Respect the right to counsel as represented by the use of representative forms. Even where the right to counsel is not available, honouring counsel by copying them on correspondence would help a lot.
- Start a simple administrative appeal system. Allow a motion to reopen a file so that clients who have been refused can quickly have their matter reviewed by a superior.
- Teach government officials to employ a ‘substance over form’ mentality. If an applicant looks like they are a good person and will be of benefit to Canada, why hassle them over an incorrect minor line item?
Prime Minister Trudeau and his ministers have been in power for almost a year. The clock is ticking on their promises of the past. Following the above list would go a long way in helping them achieve their stated goal of a faster, better immigration system.