Immigration Department makes major headway on spousal sponsorship backlog
Average processing time of spousal sponsorship applications has been reduced to 12 months from 26.
Immigration Canada has worked hard to play Cupid in the past year by reuniting Canadians with their significant others abroad.
To celebrate Valentine’s Day, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen hosted a news conference at a Mississauga dessert shop to update his department’s dramatic reduction of the spousal sponsorship backlog.
According to Hussen, the number of spousal immigration applications in the queue has dropped to 15,000 from 74,900 a year ago, and the average processing time has also been sharply reduced to 12 months from 26 months.
“The Government of Canada is committed to family reunification. We understand how important it is to reunite couples. It also makes for a stronger Canada,” said Hussen.
“Canadians who marry someone from abroad shouldn’t have to wait for years to have them immigrate or be left with uncertainty in terms of their ability to stay.”
The minister attributed the success to a focused working group, dubbed the “Family Class Tiger Team,” that was created in spring 2016 to develop innovative mechanisms and redesign application kits and workflow to reduce processing times.
The special team reviewed spouse and partner related forms, guides, websites, tools and processes in order to improve the client experience and achieve faster processing times for most applicants. The team wrapped up in December 2016.
Since then, the Immigration Department’s spousal application package has been revised. At the time Hussen’s predecessor, John McCallum, announced the government intended to reduce the backlog of spousal sponsorship cases by 80 per cent and shorten processing times to 12 months.
Changes to the application kit were made following the announcement, condensing the previous 14 checklists down to four new ones.
On Wednesday, the department said the process will be streamlined further next month.
Starting on March 15, officials said spousal applicants will be asked to submit their background form and police certificates as part of their initial paper application package, instead of later in the application process to help move the process “quickly and efficiently and avoid unnecessary delays.”
The government’s spousal backlog reduction has surprised many, including veteran immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman.
“In my experience, there has been some reduction but it has not been as noticeable as the numbers suggest,” he told the Star.
“I do not doubt the numbers but simply note that there are still cases that are taking a long time and it depends a lot on the offices.”
Spousal applications from countries such as Haiti, Mexico, Pakistan, Qatar and Sri Lanka still face wait times ranging from 14 to 19 months, above the 12-month global average, according to the Immigration Department website.
Vancouver immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens said one important reason the backlog was reduced was the increased annual quota for sponsored spouses and children coming into the country, allowing more applications to be processed.
Ottawa increased its annual target for spousal reunification by one-third to 64,000 last year from 48,000 in 2014. The quota is even higher for this year and through 2020, at 70,000 a year.
“The Liberals increased targets, which would increase the number of applications that they process in a year, meaning faster processing,” Meurrens noted.
Waldman pointed out that the government’s time frames for processing do not take into account the delays associated with applications that are returned because they are deemed incomplete.
“If my clients sends in a sponsorship and some officer wrongly decides it is incomplete and sends it back, this adds three or more months to the processing but is not included (in the backlog),” he said. “We have had lots of files wrongfully returned and this has caused a lot of hardship to our clients.”
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