Skilled Immigrant Visa Backlog Piling Up—Again

Skilled immigrant visa backlog piling up – again
Too many applicants in 38 job categories lead to wait of more than 7 years for processing

Nicholas Keung Immigration Reporter
The Toronto Star
Published On Mon Mar 29 2010

Despite controversial measures introduced two years ago to speed up Canada's immigration process, a backlog of skilled immigrant applications appears to be re-emerging, critics say.

According to an analysis of Citizenship and Immigration Canada's latest data, the average processing time from all visa posts is 7 1/2 years, with 600,000 people in the queue for the 80,055 skilled immigrant visas granted in 2010.

The problem, immigration critics say, is twofold: longer waits as the government slowly sifts through the old backlog of applications that still runs in the hundreds of thousands, and a glut of applications to the 38 specific job categories introduced in 2008.

“We have a growing inventory because we have an oversupply of eager candidates,” said Richard Kurland, a Vancouver-based immigrant lawyer and policy analyst who obtained the data. “The processing time is going to balloon. This is an early warning of a backlog returning.”

To reduce the volume of applications, Kurland said Ottawa needs to trim the occupation list and install a warning system that alerts officials to remove a job category when it generates too many applications.

“It may be unpopular politically, but the immigration minister needs to fix this,” Kurland said.

The new legislation was brought in to reduce the backlog and more quickly bring in immigrants whose skills are in demand, although opposition parties at the time warned it wouldn't solve the backlog.

Immigration spokesperson Kelli Fraser acknowledged this week that between March 2008 and now, the department has received 327,843 skilled immigrant applications for the 38 occupations, everything from geologists and specialist physicians to chefs and plumbers. But she said 80 per cent of decisions have been made within seven months or less.

Visa offices facing high workloads include Damascus in Syria, Guatemala, Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago, and Kingston, Jamaica.

The old backlog has been reduced by 40 per cent from 640,000 to roughly 400,000 applicants, she said. Under the old rules, a skilled immigrant application took four to five years to process; “given the size of the backlog, it cannot be reduced overnight,” said Fraser.

At a recent immigration conference in Toronto, Immigration Canada's international director general Renald Gilbert said there are numerous challenges, resources being a key one.

“More applications mean a longer backlog,” he said, adding over the last four years the federal government more than doubled resources to process temporary foreign worker permits, but increased resources at visa posts abroad by only 7 per cent. Part of the problem is the mismatch between the number of applications and government targets allotted to individual visa posts, said Phil Mooney, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants.

For example, the number of skilled immigrants waiting for visas in Islamabad, Pakistan, is 40,587 but the total number of visas to be granted there in 2010 is only 1,350, according to Kurland's analysis.

The loose description of some qualifying jobs, such as “financial manager” and “college instructor” also contributes to an influx of applications, said Mooney.

And, he worries about the aggressive marketing in some countries by immigration firms, legal and otherwise, that push people to apply even though they only vaguely meet the criteria.

“The sales pitch is very persuasive. The same thing happening now is what was happening before. People can come without a job. When the job market saturates, these people quickly end up at the food bank.”

The immigration department just announced this month plans to review labour market needs to update the occupation list.