Immigration wait times in Canada growing, stats reveal

OTTAWA – Immigration wait times have surged more than 20 per cent since 2004, according to statistics released by the political opposition in Ottawa.


The figures also reveal great disparities in the way Canada processes applications from one country to the next.


Some groups of immigrants are forced to wait a staggering 2,300 per cent longer than others depending on where they’re from and what immigration category they fall under.


A dependent child whose file is dealt with by Canadian officials in Beijing, Seoul or Ankara, for instance, has an 80 per cent chance of being processed within four months. But a child’s average wait time is 13 months in Singapore, 19 months in Guatemala and 34 months in Cairo.


Similar disparities occur in the skilled workers category.


A skilled worker could expect to be processed within 14 months in Lima and 15 months in Paris but would likely wait up to 71 months in Kyiv.


“There’s no excuse for discrimination,” said Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis.


“Why are we not looking at people as people?. . . Things should move at the same length of time – whether it’s from Greece, from Europe, from south Asia, or from China.”


Karygiannis obtained the figures from Citizenship and Immigration Canada through the Access to Information Act.


The Toronto-area MP then took the series of spreadsheets he received, added the numbers, and calculated that the average processing time for immigrants to Canada has been on the rise since 2004.


He said the overall processing time had increased more than 20 per cent – or one-fifth – between 2004 and the end of 2006.


The Conservative government did not dispute the figures, which Karygiannis says he spent weeks compiling.


But the Tories blame any increases on the large backlogs they inherited upon taking office in early 2006.


They say they found themselves stuck with an 800,000-person backlog that had swelled from 50,000 over the Liberals’ years in office.


A spokesman for Immigration Minister Diane Finley said the government has responded by pouring its resources into priority categories – especially family reunification.


As a result wait times were pared down by several months for spouses and children, said Mike Fraser.


He pointed to the specific example of dependent children. In 2004, 50 per cent of their cases were completed within seven months and 80 per cent were completed within 18 months. By the end of 2006, 80 per cent of cases had been processed within 11 months, Fraser said.


“While they were in government (the Liberals) did nothing to correct the problem,” he said. “Because they let the backlog grow so large, it cannot be solved overnight.”


Karygiannis agreed the immigration system has been in need of repair for many years. But he called the government’s excuse unacceptable.


“They promised (in opposition) that they were going to fix everything, shorten wait times, and everything was going to get better,” said Karygiannis, whose Toronto riding is one of the most ethnically diverse in the country.


“But under the Conservative regime things have gotten worse instead of better.”


The 2006 figures released to Karygiannis indicate:


-For dependent children, although 80 per cent of overall cases were processed within 11 months, there were significant variations by geographic area. Eighty per cent of cases were completed within three months in Vienna, five months in Jamaica, seven months in Damascus, eight months in London, and 19 months in Haiti and Guatemala.


-For parents and grandparents, 80 per cent of cases were processed within 40 months. But the figures were eight months in Sao Paolo, 11 months in London, 19 months in Mexico, 30 months in Colombo, 34 months in Beijing, 36 months in Rabat and Guatemala, 40 months in Islamabad, and 45 months in New Delhi.


-For skilled workers, 80 per cent of cases were processed within 62 months – an increase from 43 months in 2004. Eighty per cent of cases were completed within 14 months in Lima, 15 months in Paris, 31 months in Vienna, 54 months in London, 59 months in Rome, 62 months in New Delhi, 63 months in Islamabad, 64 months in Beijing and 71 months in Kyiv.


-Processing times increased most dramatically in the skilled workers category. The parents/grandparents category also saw a sizeable increase, while processing times fell significantly for children and slightly for spouses.


-For spouses and partners, 80 per cent of cases were processed within nine months. Eighty per cent of cases were completed within five months in Taipei, 13 months in Buffalo, N.Y., and Buenos Aires registered among the longest wait times at 15 months.


-The overall percentage of applications for temporary resident visas refused by Canadian officials has remained stable.


-In 2006, 32 per cent of applications for temporary resident visas were rejected from Africa and the Middle East. That compares with a rejection rate of 19 per cent for the Asia-Pacific region and 14 per cent from the Americas.


Karygiannis said there’s a relatively simple solution to the huge disparities in wait times: shift Immigration personnel around so that resources are spread more evenly around the world.


The government announced last week that it would send more employees to its visa office in the Philippines and spend $1.9 million to expand its Manila facilities in an effort to reduce wait times.

Karygiannis wants to see more moves like that.


“If I sponsor my family from Greece and my neighbour sponsors his family from Pakistan – why should I have faster service? Why should it take him double the amount of time?

“That’s not the Canadian way.”


New Democrats say speedier processing would help solve some of Canada’s labour shortages.


They blame the Liberals for the state of affairs, saying visa offices would be working faster if they hadn’t had their budgets slashed in the 1990s.


One MP said the way to help restore visa offices’ funding is by transferring cash raised from immigrants’ application fees.


“Everyday Canadians will be able to be reunited with their loved ones much faster if the government shifts all proceeds from application fees over to visa offices,” said Toronto MP Olivia Chow.


“(And) more talented immigrants could come to Canada more quickly to help solve Canada’s skilled-labour shortage problem.”


Published on 12/02/2008 12:05:21