Skilled immigrants are missing family, opportunities while waiting years in bureaucratic limbo

"I moved to Canada because I saw a bright future and opportunities here. It was my dream country but now it isn't." — Gagandeep Singh

It's been more than a year since Gurkanwal Singh first applied for permanent residency in Canada. A long, difficult and frustrating year of missing his family and having to pass up professional opportunities.

While many are making plans to reunite with family, Gurkanwal Singh is stuck in limbo with a stalled immigration application that hasn’t been touched since September. He is not alone.

Since leaving India almost six years ago, Singh has visited his family only twice.

“My younger brother was just 10 when I had left, and I’ve missed those years that I could have spent with him,” he said. “Missing out on family is the worst that can happen to anyone.”

Since moving to B.C., Singh has focused on building his profile while working in telecommunications, in hopes of submitting a more-compelling application for permanent residency to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

His work permit, social insurance number and medical coverage expired as he waited for action on his application, submitted a year ago. While the processing time is typically six months, Singh has not been told when he can expect an update.

A car accident in April forced Singh to dip into his savings, as his medical coverage had lapsed.

He calls the delay a broken promise that has halted his dreams of starting a mortgage business. Because his employer sponsors his application, he can’t accept job offers that may advance his career.

The cost is also adding up: $510 to extend work permits for his and his common-law partner, another $2,800 on their applications for permanent residency.

Singh is frustrated that applications under the skilled workers stream, called the Canadian Experience Class, are approved, despite being submitted months after his own application.

“If nothing changes in a week, I am certainly considering to apply for CEC, which will again cost us $2,400,” Singh said.

Will Tao, a Burnaby immigration lawyer, said it’s up to each applicant to look at their resources and ability to make two applications at the same time.

Tao said while COVID-19 certainly caused delays, a recently announced program offering a different pathway to permanent residency may have delayed applications submitted under other programs.

“There is this myth that everything in immigration is first in, first out,” said Tao. “When you start with a guarantee of a service standard of getting it within six months, you’re not going to start with the ones that are already delayed and have blown your timeline.”

Several requests for comment were made to IRCC but no response was received.

Tao says paper-based applications under the provincial nominee program, under which employers sponsor applicants, can take up to two years to complete which has resulted in many of his clients giving up opportunities for career advancement.

Tao highlighted an Information Commissioner report, released this year, that condemned the federal government’s case management system, used to process applications, and lack of transparency.

It’s a hurdle the IRCC appears to recognize, with the annual number of information access requests more than doubling to 132,891 in 2019-2020 from 63,333 in 2016-2017, more requests than all other federal agencies combined.

As a result, the federal government announced a push in May to improve communication with applicants. Applicants can retrieve case management notes, which contain any communications and updates on a file.

Through these notes, Abdul Hafeez Rasheed found that his provincial nominee program application hadn’t been touched since it was submitted in August 2020.

The 39-year-old left a well-paying job, as well as his wife and kids, in Abu Dhabi five years ago to pursue a masters at Victoria’s Royal Roads University.

He last saw them two years ago.

“My kids cry all the time over phone, desperate to be with me and I say I’ll be there with you soon,” Rasheed said. “The PNP program is such that I can’t quit my job, cannot leave this country, and cannot have my kids here. It’s a mess.”

Two failed attempts to bring his wife to Canada has led Rasheed to believe permanent residency is his only option for a reunion.

“For IRCC, it just might be an application, but for me it’s my life they’re holding,” he said.

Gagandeep Singh, 33 (no relation to Gurkanwal), works at a Vancouver IT firm and had applied under the provincial nominee program in July 2020. His work permit expires next month and he’s not seen his wife and son in India since September 2019.

“My four-year-old son is missing me a lot. Every time I talk to him, he asks when they will come with me to Canada,” he said. “I have no answer.”

Gagandeep too has heard of 2021 applications being approved in two months while he has been waiting for 13.

“I moved to Canada because I saw a bright future and opportunities here. It was my dream country but now it isn’t,” he said.

Tao points out that during the pandemic, IRCC was keeping in mind national interest when it dealt with applications of essential workers first.

“If you’re just a regular spouse trying to get your family here, which to you is the world’s most important thing … you’re just a number. That’s the reality of the system,” he said.

Marco Mendicino, the minister of IRCC, said that the pandemic has created a shock to the immigration system.

“We have a plan to not only go back to pre-COVID processing times, but to totally modernize and transform our immigration system so that we can be more efficient than ever,” Mendicino told Postmedia.

Mendicino said they have hired 62 IRCC front line officers to focus on family-class immigration and will be moving the process of permanent resident landing online. According to him, IRCC broke a record for the highest number of permanent residency landings in a single month in June.

“I remain confident that we are going to hit our immigration levels plan for 2021, which will be to land 401,000 new permanent residents this year,” he said.

“It’s about leveraging immigration as a way to accelerate our economic recovery and strengthen our long term prosperity.”

Twitter: @Pratyush_Dayal_

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