I had the privilege of being invited to give testimony to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration
(CIMM) yesterday. The CIMM has been investigating the impact of COVID-19 on the Canadian immigration system and my testimony is available on ParlVU. If you are interested, my testimony starts at the 17:12 mark. In particular, the Members of Parliament (MPs) are looking at the following points:
- application backlogs and processing times for the different streams of family reunification and the barriers preventing the timely reunification of loved ones, such as denials of temporary resident visas because of section 179(b) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations and the ongoing closures of Visa Application Centers;
- examine the government’s decision to reintroduce a lottery system for the reunification of parents and grandparents; to compare it to previous iterations of application processes for this stream of family reunification, including a look at processing times and the criteria required for successful sponsorship;
- temporary resident visa processing, authorization to travel to Canada by individuals with an expired Confirmation of Permanent Residency; use of expired security and background checks for permanent immigration;
- the facilitation and issuing of visas and study permits for international students, with special attention to the experience of groups of international students (such as students from francophone Africa) and to the usual administrative delays and additional delays caused by the COVID 19 pandemic;
- refugee resettlement program, meeting the Government of Canada’s international commitments to settle convention refugees in Canada, work of Canadian civil society groups to bring privately sponsored refugees to Canada, and to extend a life boat to the people of Hong Kong facing persecution under the new National Security Law;
- severe and long-term economic impact of reduced immigration to Canada in 2020-2023;
- administrative costs and delays related to Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) applications under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and consideration of possible solutions, including granting open work permits on a sector-by-sector basis to facilitate labour mobility; that LMIAs be biennial; that the duration of work permits be extended; that three-year work permits be extended annually;
- technological capability of the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada and Passport Canada to work remotely or virtually, meet service standards and enforce applicable laws.
- that all testimonies received during a study pursuant to this motion be deemed included in further studies;
- the two pilot projects for Caregivers introduced as of June 18, 2019: (1) Home Child Care Provider Pilot; and (2) Home Support Worker Pilot; that the study examines the criteria and its effect on the caregivers who are trying to qualify under these programs toward the path for permanent status; that the Committee report its findings to the House; and that, pursuant to Standing Order 109, the government table a comprehensive response thereto.
- that this study begin no later than October 27, 2020, that the Committee table its findings in the House upon completion and that, pursuant to Standing Order 109, the government table a comprehensive response thereto.
Here is a copy of my opening testimony to the CIMM:
Honourable committee members. I’d like to thank you for this invitation to provide testimony on the impact of COVID-19 on the immigration system. I would like to acknowledge that I am giving this testimony on Treaty 1 territory, the homeland of the Metis Nation and the ancestral lands of Indigenous peoples.
I am appearing before you today as an immigration and refugee lawyer with more than 12 years of experience. I started my career at an immigration law boutique on Bay Street in Toronto. From there, I practiced at a legal aid clinic, assisting low income residents and for the past 7 years, I have practiced exclusively immigration and refugee law in Winnipeg, Manitoba – the heart of our continent.
Today I will be making five brief points.
My first point is that IRCC needs to further digitize the system and expand online services. For example, Spousal sponsorships and Temporary Resident Permit applications could easily be submitted online. In 2018, the Refugee Protection Division at the IRB introduced the e-Post system and it has been very successful. Epost makes it is easy for counsel to see details of documents that have been uploaded. IRCC has started to use e-Post for refugee claimants inside Canada and this tool be useful in other contexts. In short, a robust online system may provide solutions to dealing with long processing times and backlogs.
For my second point, I strongly support the possibility of applicant’s posting monetary bonds for TRV applications in the context of a Spousal Sponsorship applications. These applicants are sufficiently motivated to become Permanent Residents through the family class that there would be low risk in the possibility of them overstaying their visa.
I have reservations, however, if a monetary bond were to become a requirement of all TRV applications. I would not want the TRV application to become out of reach for low income applicants.
My third point relates to applicants in Provincial Nominee Programs. Many of these individuals are able to apply for Permanent Resident status based on their education and work experience in Canada. Once these workers receive their Nomination Certificate, they can apply for a bridging Work Permit that is restricted to their employer. This pandemic has resulted in many lay-offs and it has caused severe hardship. In my view, these Work Permits should be less restricted to avoid many issues, including potential problems with flag polling. For example, a NOC B worker could be allowed to accept a different NOC B position without having to obtain a new Work Permit. Similarly, I also urge more flexibility with Post Graduate Work Permits. They should not be limited to one PGWP per student.
My fourth point relates to refugee claimants. As you know, the travel restrictions have essentially closed the border to claimants from the United States. Justice MacDonald at the Federal Court of Canada recently held the Safe Third Country Agreement is unconstitutional and it is disheartening this government has appealed this decision. Notwithstanding these extraordinary times, Canada has a strong humanitarian tradition that must be protected.
My last point relates to a collaborative approach.
Part of the reason I was attracted to this area of law is that it is generally non-confrontational. To deal with minor issues, I can easily call a CMO at the IRB, a Superintendent at a POE, an inland enforcement officer or a lawyer at the DOJ. Dealing with IRCC, by contrast, is a constant struggle. When an IRCC Officer makes a clear mistake, there is no easy mechanism to get it fixed. In my view, the Request for Reconsideration system is broken and MPs are far too often put in the difficult position to act intermediaries. Bad decisions by Visa Officers are often easy to appeal to Federal Court but judicial reviews expend a huge amount of time and resources for both the applicants and the government.
The Dual Intent guidance issued last month is a step in the right direction; however, it does not go far enough to emphasize flexible decision making. An Immigration Ombudsperson is a possible solution. In my view, there may be a tech solution to facilitate better communication with Visa Officers to address minor issues. In short, I would urge IRCC to adopt a more collaborative approach.
I believe there is great merit in continued consultations with stakeholders and thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts.
I look forward to further collaboration with MPs and IRCC Officers to deal with these issues. Hopefully, the report and recommendations that come from the CIMM committee will address the issues identified above. Many people have been adversely affected and there is still much that can be done to help.
As mentioned by Mark in his testimony to the CIMM, in some cases, media is also helpful to shed light on sympathetic cases. To this end, our office has built strong relationships with CBC, Global, the Winnipeg Free Press to advocate for our clients on every level.