Immigration Canada is reporting an increased number of visa applicants who are expressing thoughts or intentions of suicide because of processing delays caused by the various measures put in place around the pandemic.
“We have attributed this increase to the duress that many clients are under given the various measures put in place around COVID,” said Carly Dybka, Assistant Director, Social Media & Care at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) in an email to her bosses obtained under the Access to Information Act.
“These client comments have been received by both the Client Support Centre (calls, emails) as well as through social media,” she wrote in the email, according to Lexbase, an authoritative immigration newsletter authored by Vancouver lawyer Richard Kurland.
“We understand that there may be a unit in CMB [Case Management Branch] that has experience in dealing with similar issues, and are looking for advice on both how to respond, and how to support employees dealing with these enquiries. We are already in touch with the CSC with the hope of adopting an approach consistent to theirs, but wanted to see if any other resources are available,” read the email.
As an IRCC spokesperson told New Canadian Media (NCM), its agents are trained to listen carefully to callers, empathise with their situation and collect as much pertinent detail about the caller as possible so that they can refer these details to their supervisor
“We understand that the situation can be stressful for applicants waiting to come to Canada. When IRCC receives calls from people in distress talking about suicide, we give them our full attention to help them in availing themselves of help close to them and local health supports,” she said.
The Client Support Centre (CSC) agents have a list of crisis centres that are available by region, and they are ready to provide them to the person in need, she added. “CSC supervisors then complete the necessary steps to advise our corporate security officer should further steps be needed to attend to the person’s safety.”
Amrit Singh in New Delhi is among those who have expressed his mental anguish to IRCC after waiting for more than a year to come to Canada to be with his Vancouver-based wife. The couple got married in India.
“It’s unbearable some days, and this is because nobody will pick up the phone or give us any answers,” he told NCM in a telephone interview. “We read in the papers about Canada improving the process, but in reality nothing seems to be happening…I don’t know how long this is going to go for.”
Among those most impacted by the visa processing delays are foreign workers and international students.
“Unless addressed, increasing processing times are likely to have a negative impact on our business operations within the next year,” said the Canadian Employee Relocation Council (CERC), after surveying a broad cross-section of the industry that relies on access to international skills and talent.
“The current visa processing times are absolutely ridiculous,” the CERC noted in a recent report entitled ‘The Impact of Processing Delays of Work Permits and Immigration Visas on Canadian Employers.’
The think tank is calling for greater transparency in the triaging of files and criteria used for faster processing to reduce unpredictability in the system and frustration among applicants and employers.
International students waiting for visas to come to Canada have also launched petitions via social media to raise awareness of the waiting times they face.
“Students who are waiting for a visa need certainty about their future. If the visa is refused after months of waiting, they might lose an entire academic year worth of precious time which can never be recovered,” said a petition by Prithvi Raj in Hyderabad, India. The petition has garnered over 25,000 signatures.
“If they are given a visa decision either positive or negative in a timely fashion, they can plan their future and make alternative arrangements for their higher education,” wrote Raj.
Ashish Goyal, one of the applicants who signed the petition, wrote: “Paid my fee in Dec 2019, applied for my visa in early March 2020, submitted a complete file. my father took a loan even when he was drowning financially! For god’s sake don’t make him regret it.”