A recent article from the CBC entitled “Husband and wife haven’t seen each other for a year as immigration application stalls” (28 December 2020), highlights some of the issues facing Canadians who are currently trying to sponsor their foreign spouse or partner to Canada. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the immigration authorities are processing these applications much more slowly than usual. This is because their staff are working at reduced capacity and often from home. Also, some foreign visa offices have been shut down completely due to the pandemic. While usually a spousal sponsorship application processes in about 6 months to 1 year, now processing times of over a year are common. The lengthy separation of spouses places an enormous strain on a relationship. People who are married, and especially people who have just been married, understandably want to be together with each other: they are in love and being apart from one another is a tremendous emotional hardship. When one spouse is in Canada and the other in a foreign country half-way around the world, it is impossible to maintain the kind of intimacy that spouses and partners would ordinarily enjoy with each other. This situation becomes even more problematic when there are children involved, as children want to be with both parents, not just one or the other. Unfortunately, the immigration authorities offer no solution to the forced separation of spouses as they routinely refuse visitor visas by foreign spouses of Canadians. They do this because they do not consider foreign spouses to be genuine temporary visitors, since they will generally seek to remain in Canada permanently. This means that all too often the foreign spouse is not even allowed to visit their spouse in Canada while the sponsorship application processes. And because of pandemic travel restrictions, and also job responsibilities, it is also often not possible for the Canadian partner to visit the foreign spouse. Another problem caused by the coronavirus processing delays is the return of incomplete applications several months after they have been received by the immigration authorities. The immigration department has a strict policy of only accepting spousal sponsorship applications if they are fully complete. If anything is missing, they will send the entire application back to the applicant. Because of processing delays, it often takes months for an applicant to get their returned application back, after which they have to start all over again. This can be extremely frustrating for sponsorship applicants and their Canadian sponsors, who thereby experience an additional processing delay of several months just because of some minor error, like missing a single question on a form, or because their photos are the wrong size. Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino has recently announced new measures to try to speed up the processing of spousal sponsorship applications, and indicates that the department has raised its capacity to process spousal sponsorship applications from about 38% to approximately 90%. This is welcome news. However, until the Covid-19 pandemic is over and processing is fully back to normal, Minister Mendicino should consider taking the following measures:
- Allow foreign spouses to obtain visitor visas to Canada so they can be with their Canadian partner while their application processes. Of course, the foreign spouse would have to meet all required travel measures such as providing a negative Covid-19 test before travelling, and going into quarantine for 14 days after arriving in Canada.
- Stop returning applications due to minor deficiencies. Only applications that are missing essential forms and documents should be returned, otherwise the immigration department should put the application into process and simply email or write to the applicant to ask them to provide any missing information.