Arvinder Singh is never far from the phone at his village in Punjab, India.
The long haul truck driver, who is looking forward to starting his job in British Columbia, has been waiting for two years to get his papers processed at the High Commission of Canada to India, in New Delhi.
Similarly, Sunil Kumar Manhas and Didar Singh, who have been offered truck driving jobs in Canada, have been waiting two years to get their visas.
“We just can’t get any answers,” said Wesley Richards, a human resources manager for a B.C. trucking company who offered them the jobs in an industry that currently faces a crippling shortage of 22,000 drivers.
A.B. Kumar, in Delhi, told New Canadian Media he has been waiting 14 months for a visa to join his wife in Vancouver.
“Last I heard from Immigration Canada was in March 2021 confirming I passed my medical examination….since March 2021 till now, there hasn’t been any communication,” he said.
Unable to get any answers, the couple has applied for the Global Case Management System (GCMS) notes by the visa officer handling their file to get a detailed record of their application.
The truck drivers in Punjab and Kumar are just some of the tens of thousands of people around the world whose lives are in limbo as Immigration Canada struggles to clear a massive visa backlog.
The current processing times for work permit visas at the High Commission of Canada to India is listed at 35 weeks for individuals and a year for spousal visas.
But that does not reflect reality, said Vancouver East MP Jenny Kwan, the NDP Critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.
She estimates that it will take at least three years to make up for the lost processing times as a result of the pandemic in 2020.
“I am hearing daily from applicants desperately trying to learn why approval for their application is still pending when it is well passed the standard processing, while in other cases people who have applied long after them are much further in the process,” Kwan said in a letter addressed to new Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) Minister Sean Fraser.
“There is also a greater need for transparency in all aspects of immigration. Applicants are struggling to get information on their application as lack of resources at IRCC has resulted in IRCC greatly reducing access to inquiry services,” Kwan states. She also asks for detailed information on the current state of backlogs and anticipated timelines for getting back to regular processing times.
Jasraj Singh Hallan, the Conservative Party’s Immigration Shadow Minister, in his letter to Minister Fraser, which focused on the Afghan refugees waiting resettlement in Canada, said the IRCC visa backlog is at historic levels.
“We will continue to hold the Liberal government to account and take action to clear up backlogs which are devastating separated families & harming employers,” he said in a Facebook post.
Immigration Canada could not provide current backlog numbers to New Canadian Media but published data showed that as of last July, the backlog of permanent residence applications had jumped by 70 per cent to 375,137 since February 2020, with the number of applications for temporary residence sitting at 702,660 cases.
The backlog of citizenship applications reached 369,677 people from 208,069 over the same period, reported the Toronto Star.
In a statement to NCM, IRCC said the pandemic has had a significant impact on Canada’s immigration system and affected processing times.
“Despite this, Canada admitted 45,038 permanent residents in the month of September 2021, the highest monthly number of permanent residents on record (only data since 1980 is readily available),” according to a department spokesperson.
“Also, up to the end of September 2021, more than 163,000 work permits and nearly 347,000 work permit extension applications have been processed.
“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.”
Both the NDP and the Conservative Party Immigration critics said while they understand the pandemic-induced delays, Immigration Canada needs to better streamline its services, provide quick answers to keep applicants notified and stop the duplication of bureaucratic processes that aggravate the delays.
For Richards, the trucking company HR manager in B.C., the duplication of processes and the lack of communication has caused the company he works for to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Our company has been in business since 1988, and I have provided hundreds of pages of financial records to the visa processing officers in India and they keep asking for the same information again and again,” he said.
“The company has already been approved to get foreign drivers by Service Canada after a thorough background check… The due diligence done by Service Canada should be enough for a visa processing officer to acknowledge the background, needs and wants of the employer.”
“In some cases the visa officers overseas are doing Google searches to find out about the companies, and if they can’t find the information, they declare the job offer to be not genuine…when I submit and resubmit the proof required, I don’t get any answers.”
Frustrated at the lack of communication, Richards has filed applications in the Federal Court to get the answers he seeks, while his drivers remain in limbo in India. He has also sent letters documenting the delays to the High Commission of Canada to India.
“All these visa officers have to do is pick up the phone if they have questions about the employer or the applicant, and the process will move faster,” he said.