Recently, processing times for the in-country spousal sponsorship program have tripled, leading to Canadians caught up in the backlog to demand an audit of the troubled program. Thousands of Canadians are now having to wait more than two years to acquire permanent resident status for their foreign spouses already living in Canada. That means living in limbo for the foreign partner, not being allowed to take a job or access health care coverage.
According to a national online group called Canada Inland Spousal Sponsorship Petitioners, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) must immediately establish “service delivery standards,” as recommended by the Office of the Auditor General in a scathing report in 2010.
Canadians have the option to sponsor a foreign wife or husband either from abroad or within Canada with many preferring to do it from Canada, so as to avoid being apart during the processing.
A spousal sponsorship is a two-stage process: the sponsor has to be assessed and approved before the foreign spouse can be screened for medical clearance, background checks and other verification. Currently, inland applicants must wait 17 months for stage one, and eight months longer for stage two.
Although Ottawa launched a pilot program before Christmas to issue work permits to some of these foreign spouses still in the queue for stage one, the lobbying group complains its members are treated worse than foreign workers and international students, whose spouses can get their work permits and health coverage a lot faster.
It is not known how many couples are caught up in the inland sponsorship backlog, but over 8,000 new in-Canada applications are processed each year.
The wait time began increasing rapidly in February 2014 when CIC moved processing of the inland spousal cases from its centre in Vegreville, Alta., to Mississauga. It became worse after August, when officials introduced a new application form and decided to mail back some of the applications to applicants even if they had been submitted before the form change. The Conservative government has blamed the previous Liberal government for creating the backlog.
“As foreigners, it is not your place in society to protest, but we all have reasonable expectations from this government. The government owes us an answer why it takes 25 months to render a decision on our applications,” said Irish citizen Ronan McDermott, who met his Canadian wife, Alicia Renkas, from Calgary, while he was working in the oil sands on a work-holiday visa.
Over 540 couples have signed the inland sponsorship group’s online petition. The group hopes to submit the petition to the Office of Auditor General on Monday.