New Immigration Reforms Put Applications On Hold

New immigration reforms put applications on hold
Ottawa officials are awaiting instructions from ministry about which candidates will be processed

Nicholas Keung
The Toronto Star
Jun 21, 2008 04:30 AM

Newly passed immigration reforms, which the federal government said were aimed at reducing a staggering backlog of applications by would-be immigrants, are creating a new logjam.

The backlog, which stood at 925,000 before the legislation was brought in, could grow by an additional 90,000 because officials have stopped processing new applications.

Prospective immigrants who submitted applications after Feb. 26, when the legislation was introduced, have been told by Citizenship and Immigration Canada that their applications are being put on hold until further notice.

“It is expected that Canada's Minister of Citizenship and Immigration will, within the next several months, be providing instructions to visa offices as to which applications are to be accepted for processing and which are to be returned unprocessed,” Canadian visa officers explained in letters to applicants.

When the instructions from the minister are received, “we will apply them to our inventory of applications,” the letter says.

The move to stop processing new applications has baffled immigration lawyers and consultants, with some worried their clients' applications will be discarded altogether and they will be asked to reapply. Immigration officials declined to comment yesterday. The immigration reforms, passed by the Senate this week, give Immigration Minister Diane Finley the power to reject applications even if applicants meet all the criteria, and to instruct officials to cherry-pick immigrants based on labour market needs.

In a news release issued after the legislation's passage, the immigration department said the law “will stop the backlog from growing” and help to bring in skilled immigrants in as little as six months.

Canada received about 174,000 overseas applications in each of the last two years. Based on that figure, an average of 14,500 new applications could be piling up each month.

With the minister's instructions not expected until the fall, the number of people waiting in this latest queue could reach almost 90,000.

Also, while an applicant will get a refund of the processing fee if an application is returned, fees for professional help from lawyers and consultants are not refundable.

“I am surprised that they are putting the new applications on hold while waiting for the minister's instructions. And there is no indication how long they will be on hold,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Gary Segal, whose client received one such letter from the Buffalo visa office two weeks ago.

To ensure fairness, the new applications should continue to be processed, Segal argued.

According to immigration's notification to applicants, once the instructions are issued, officials will start processing those applications received on Feb. 27, the day after the legislation was introduced, and proceed in chronological order.

“We will mail you a letter within 60 days of publication of the minister's instructions,” it said.

The uncertainty has made it difficult for lawyers and consultants to offer advice to prospective clients, some of whom have already been deterred from applying, said Toronto immigration lawyer Mario Bellissimo.