100,000 grandparents and parents in immigration backlog
Globe and Mail Update
June 10, 2006
Canada's Immigration Department illegally discriminated against people who applied to bring their parents and grandparents to Canada, causing waits to escalate to as long as a decade, according to a recently filed lawsuit.
Currently, documents filed with the lawsuit say, 100,000 parent and grandparent sponsorship cases are in the backlog and applicants are charged a $550 processing fee in advance, even though the files might not be opened for two years, and might not be processed for many more.
Lorne Waldman, the Toronto immigration lawyer who initiated the lawsuit, says the government has no legal right to discriminate against a certain kind of immigration applicant.
Documents obtained under the Access to Information Act show that the Immigration Department deliberately “managed downward” the target for parents and grandparents, the lawsuit says. Ottawa dramatically reduced the Mississauga immigration office's resources to process parent and grandparent applications, and established quotas in offices overseas to restrict the number of visas to parents and grandparents. This plan was not made public, and the lawsuit alleges that the Immigration Department “made efforts to conceal the true state of the backlog and delay.”
“The government has not given itself the legal authority to prefer one type of immigration application over another,” Mr. Waldman said. “[Applications] Theymust all be processed in the same timely manner. If the government wants to limit people's ability to bring in their parents, it must be done publicly and in a transparent fashion.”
Waiting times in many other immigration categories are much shorter.
The documents show that beginning in 2002, the government quietly changed its target for grandparents and parents to 6,000 from about three times that to maintain a 60-40 split between skilled worker and family-class immigrants; the government has an annual target of between 230,000 and 250,000 newcomers. The lawsuit alleges the reduced “target” for grandparents and parents effectively “bottlenecked” the category.
Immigration officers in missions abroad expressed concern and noted the growing frustration of applicants, according to the documents, which were obtained by Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland.
An official in the Hong Kong mission noted that “it will take us nine years to clear the cases currently in our inventory.” A Canadian immigration official at the mission in Trinidad said, “we are really in very deep in this category, especially as neither we nor anybody else had any forewarning of such restrictions.” A memo from the Islamabad mission noted: “The problem will have to be addressed openly.”
Another internal memo shows that in recent years, while the immigration processing centre in Mississauga received 600 applications a week to sponsor parents and grandparents, it processed only half this number, which led to a significant backlog.
The lawsuit also alleges that the government misled the public by providing applicants with historic waiting times, instead of true waiting times, which ballooned to as long as seven years. Mr. Kurland notes in an affidavit that in 2005, 100,000 parent and grandparent sponsorship cases were in the backlog.
Internal documents also show that immigration officials were concerned that large backlogs threatened to undermine Canada's competitiveness due to “unacceptable waiting times for some clients.”
The lawsuit is based on the case of Ming Chen, a Vancouver permanent resident who filed an application in July of 2004 to sponsor his parents, but became concerned that the sponsorship would take as long as 10 years.
In March of 2005, he signed, along with 90 others, a petition asking the immigration minister to increase the number of sponsorships for parents and grandparents.
Marina Wilson, a Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokeswoman, said that she cannot comment on the lawsuit. But she noted that in April of 2005, then-immigration-minister Joe Volpe increased the target for parents and grandparents to 18,000. “We put in place extra staff and increased funds to process the anticipated increase in volume of cases,” Ms. Wilson said.
The lawsuit will be heard in Federal Court next month.