Canada will be hard-pressed to meet its ambitious target of resettling 121,500 refugees over the next two years, which will result in an excess of “deportation resources” that could be used to alleviate the growing spousal visa backlog, according to one of the country’s top immigration reform advocates.
Citing data from the Canada Border Services Agency’s (CBSA) Intelligence Division, Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Richard Kurland told New Canadian Media in an interview that “the number of refugee claims have crashed by 63 per cent because of COVID-related restrictions,” leading to a higher number of “deportation resources.”
“Because the resources already planned for deportation are not going to be needed, we can take the risk to let more spouses into Canada early, before their overseas permanent residence process is complete,” he explains, adding that this would allow for family reunification at “no additional net cost to the government.”
“If a spousal application is refused, we have unused deportation resources available to remove the person who was let in here prematurely,” he says. “Only a small number of spousal cases are refused, so it’s worth the risk.”
According to the latest published data by Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), Canada has a backlog of nearly 1.8 million immigration applications, including 112,392 refugee applications as of last October. As of November 5, 2020, there were more than 50,000 spousal sponsorship applications in the backlog.
Frustrated at the delays, many applicants have taken to social media to voice their frustrations. One of the groups is the Canada Spousal Sponsorship Support Group, which has over 20,000 members.
NDP Immigration Critic Jenny Kwan has called upon the IRCC to prioritize family reunification and create a special temporary resident visa as part of the family reunification process.
The Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association (CILA) is also calling for a change of policies and attitudes related to spouses of Canadian citizens.
“Foreign national spouses of Canadians are not only ineligible for a work permit but may not even be able to enter Canada,” the Association told NCM.
“Compare this to immigration policy governing foreign workers entering Canada on a work permit. Their spouses are permitted to travel with them and are eligible to work or study in Canada during the length of the principal applicant’s authorized stay. Family reunification is an important concept in international law, and we are certainly supportive of immigration policy that enables this scheme, but it is time to apply the same treatment to spouses of Canadian citizens. The extent of this problem became very evident during the pandemic.”
In a previous statement to NCM, the IRCC said “Ongoing international travel restrictions; border restrictions; limited operational capacity, both in Canada and overseas; and the inability on the part of clients to obtain documentation due to the effects of COVID-19 have created barriers within the processing continuum. This hinders IRCC’s ability to finalize applications, creating delays that are outside IRCC’s control.”
Meanwhile, a Refugee Claims Analysis Report by the CBSA obtained by Kurland through an Access to Information request and shared with NCM shows that “2020 had the lowest number of (refugee) claims in Canada since 2016, and a 63 per cent decrease over 2019.”
Here are some of the highlights from that report looking at the push and pull factors from three of the top 10 top source countries of refugees:
PUSH FACTORS: “High unemployment rate; insurgency; environmental degradation (i.e. dangerous levels of air pollution); extensive poverty; caste discrimination; corruption; increasing religious tensions (i.e. attacks on religious minorities); gender-based violence against women and girls; honour killings; discrimination against LGBTQ+ community.”
PULL FACTORS: “Strong Indian diaspora in Canada; favorable socio-economic opportunities; family reunification; freedom for LGBTQ+ individuals; respect for women’s rights.”
X-FACTOR: “Political and religious persecution and socio-economic conditions, particularly of minorities, will likely influence migratory trends from India in 2021. India has been at the forefront of vaccine efforts and attempting to manage the COVID-19 virus spread among its population, likely pushing previous agendas aside. However, much like in the rest of the world, 2021 will likely reveal the effects of restrictions, spending, and domestic lockdown policies that have negatively impacted much of India’s economy through further loss of employment, loss of revenue and a straining health care system. As a result, once travel restrictions begin to lift, more Indian nationals are expected to look for employment opportunities in wealthier countries such as Canada and will likely use the resources of sophisticated smuggling networks to do so.”
PUSH FACTORS: “Criminal violence; record high homicide rate; discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity; violence against women; natural disasters (i.e. earthquakes); corruption; violence against journalists; income inequality.
PULL FACTORS: “Visa free travel; favorable socio-economic opportunities; diaspora community; little criminal or political violence; freedom for LGBTQ+ individuals; little perceived corruption.”
X-FACTOR: “As of December 2020, the country surpassed 100,000 COVID deaths however the number is likely higher, the already fragile Mexican economy has experienced significant loss as a result of the pandemic by way of business and investment decreases, with little government financial relief response to assist businesses to remain open and maintain employment levels. The pandemic has also caused further increases in critical issues and push factors in the country such as violence against women. The COVID-19 pandemic is benefitting organized crime groups in Mexico, as they step in to fulfill needs of local population through the delivery of food and medication where local government efforts are insufficient. As a result, the pandemic is indirectly encouraging increased membership in organized crime, as Mexico’s economy continues shrinking and access to legitimate work is increasingly limited.”
PUSH FACTORS: “Repression of political dissent; religious fundamentalism; repression and discrimination of religious and ethnic minorities; civil tensions; discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity; economic crises; academic restrictions; allegations of unfair trials and cruel punishments (i.e. torture).”
PULL FACTORS: “Favorable socio-economic conditions; large diaspora; academic opportunities; religious freedoms; freedom for LGBTQ+ individuals.”
X-FACTOR: “Iran continues to struggle with containing the COVID-19 pandemic with record deaths and health care systems weakened by insufficient funding, staff and equipment….The U.S. government continues a sanction heavy strategy to try and quell Iran from continuing war in the Middle East that has reportedly created a humanitarian disaster.”