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Family Reunification Programs Continue to be Inequitably Applied

by Ronalee Carey Law

June 2024

For the spouses and partners of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, recent improvements to processing times of family sponsorship applications are welcomed. Processing times for both the Family Class and the Spouse or Common-Law Partner in Canada Class are currently ten months for the majority of applications. However, ten months is still a very long time for newlyweds to be reunited and for Canadians wishing to return to live in Canada and bring their families. One client recently emailed me, saying, ‘We don't really understand how IRCC thinks it's acceptable to allow people to wait upwards of a year to bring in their spouse.’

Being able to come to Canada as a temporary resident during the processing of a sponsorship application is a potential solution, but unfortunately, this opportunity is not equitably applied to all applicants. This inconsistency in the application process is not only inefficient but also unfair, as it puts some families at a disadvantage.

As I wrote in December 2022, Dual Intent Policy for Spousal Reunification not Leading to Reunification, despite IRCC’s promise to allow more spouses to come to Canada as visitors, officers still routinely deny applications; this is as true today as it was in 2022. I recently had a client’s application for a visa denied. The refusal letter listed every possible ground, including that they were ‘not satisfied that you have a legitimate business purpose in Canada.’ This reason was particularly egregious as the applicant was not coming to Canada for business purposes; she is a homemaker. Her visitor visa application was denied in February. The sponsorship application was approved in May, and the client is now in Canada with her partner. They could have been reunited in Canada three months earlier had the visitor visa been issued.

Though Family Class applicants are now permitted to apply for work permits after entering Canada, lengthy processing times (currently 99 days) mean applicants who choose to reunite with their spouse in Canada must give up their income unless they have the kind of job that allows them to work remotely for their employer back home. Those who can’t afford not to work must remain separated from their spouse. It is impossible to apply for this kind of work permit upon entry to Canada; this should this be changed. Spouses could start looking for work immediately.

I recently agreed to chair the Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association (CILA) Family Reunification Committee. I hope to work with the committee to pressure IRCC to improve its policies and processes.

Another issue I would like the committee to tackle is the processing time for Convention refugees/protected persons dependents.  IRCC is currently taking an astounding 49 months to allow spouses and children to come to Canada to join their family members after a successful refugee claim. Often, the family members left behind are in danger themselves and are moving from place to place while hiding from persecutors. Enduring a long separation makes it difficult for protected persons to integrate into Canadian society fully and to heal from the trauma they endured before coming to Canada. Everyone suffers. If we offer protection to refugee claimants, we should process their family members’ applications as quickly as we do for other families.

Reverse migration the Impact of Affordability and Job Opportunities in Canada

by Ronalee Carey Law

April 2024

This month’s newsletter is guest-authored by Moria Konecnik, our Immigration Case Manager.

On November 1, Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced that the federal government intends to maintain its target of admitting 500,000 new permanent residents in 2026. In 2023, Canada welcomed 471,550 new permanent residents – all seeking the promising allure of the “Canadian Dream.”

Despite Canada's open arms to a large number of immigrants, a staggering 17.5% of them emigrate within 20 years in what is known as ‘reverse migration.’ This raises a pressing question – why? While various factors are at play, the issue of affordability stands out as a significant challenge for many immigrants.

I immigrated to Canada almost two years ago from the United States. My hometown, Silver Spring, Maryland, is right on the border of Maryland and Washington, D.C., so I am no stranger to living in a nation’s capital and the affordability issues that can come with it.

I share a lot of experiences with the immigrants in these articles. While I initially had a job and a place of residence lined up when I first moved, some of the plans fell through. I was unemployed in a foreign country with no knowledge of what steps I could take to survive during an era of inflation. There’s no sugarcoating it – it was a hard time. I am lucky to be where I am now, but others don’t find the same success in Canada. Despite the U.S. sharing a similarly suffering job market, I was close to returning home. I would at least have experience and other connections in the American job market.

It's essential to recognize the significant contributions immigrants make to Canada. They account for a staggering 90% of the country’s labour force growth. International students, in particular, play a crucial role, contributing over $20 billion to Canada’s economy. Yet, Prime Minister Trudeau introduced a cap on international student permits.

Reverse immigration poses a serious threat to Canada’s economy and job force. A review of Canada’s immigration and integration policies is critical. Canada works very hard to attract new talent; let’s not let our efforts go to waste.

Time Running out for Ukrainian CUAET Applicants

by Ronalee Carey Law

March 2024

A year ago, the Canadian government created the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET), which allows Ukrainian citizens and their family members to apply for visas to come to Canada and, upon arrival, be issued work or study permits. In July 2023, the Temporary public policy for foreign nationals who applied under the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel measures and for new temporary resident applicants created an end date for the program, which will be at the end of this month. Those with visas must travel to Canada by March 31, and anyone wishing to extend their study or work permit must submit their application by that date. Thousands of Ukrainians were expected to arrive before the deadline to join the approximate 250,000 already here.

This does not mean that Ukrainians whose work or study permits expire will be forced to return to Ukraine. There is an administrative deferral of removal (ADR) for Ukraine, preventing the removal of most Ukrainian citizens from Canada. However, ADRs are temporary measures which can be lifted at any time.

Many of the Ukrainians who came to Canada through the CUAET program have indicated their desire to stay permanently. However, their options are limited.

  • Applying through economic programs such as the Canadian Experience Class or provincial nomination programs – Ukrainians wishing to apply for permanent residence in Canada face an uphill battle due to intense competition for limited spots. Limited English language skills and the inability to obtain skilled work in Canada can impact their changes.
  • Special family sponsorship program – sponsorship is usually limited to spouses, dependent children, and (some) parents or grandparents; however, Canadians can sponsor their Ukrainian adult children, grandchildren, and siblings through a special program
  • Application based on humanitarian and compassionate considerations – I recently was a guest with the Canadian Immigration Institute where we discussed these types of applications. Ukrainians will have many of the ‘factors’ present that immigration officers look for when reviewing these applications, but there are only 8,000 spaces in the 2025 immigration levels plan for H&C applicants. This program will be woefully insufficient to meet demand.
  • Make a refugee claim – refugee claimants are, by way, required to show ‘subjective risk’; a general risk to the entire population does not usually lead to refugee protection. However, in X (Re), 2022 CanLII 136990 (CA IRB) the Refugee Appeal Division found that the claimant, a Ukrainian citizen, would be at risk if he returned to Ukraine on the basis of his Ukrainian nationality. Nationality is a protection ground of persecution in international refugee law. The tribunal held:

…I find that the Respondent has established a nexus based on his Ukrainian nationality. I agree with the Minister Appellant’s position that Ukrainians are being targeted based on their Ukrainian nationality and that “there is evidence that the atrocities committed by the Russian military against Ukrainians are motivated by genocidal intent.”

Many Ukrainians will not find a refugee claim an option, however, as it means that cannot return to Ukraine, even to visit, once the war is over. If they did so, they would risk losing their status in Canada.

The CUAET program was the first of its kind and was likely instituted partly due to pressure from the large Canadian-Ukrainian population. Time will tell whether similar pressure will force the Canadian government to open a pathway to permanent residence for all CUAET permit holders in Canada.

Documenting the ‘Undocumented’

by Ronalee Carey Law

February 2024


On February 27, 2024, I had the pleasure of supervising law students doing advocacy work with Members of Parliament. The event, called LobbyCon, was organized by the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers. This year’s topics included climate migrants and a program to provide permanent status to individuals in Canada who are ‘undocumented.’

We hear of issues with ‘illegal aliens’ in the USA, but in Canada, the problem is under the radar for most. One reason may be that it is hard to know how many people entered Canada irregularly or came to Canada with valid visas but are now without status. The number I have heard most often is that an estimated 500,000 people in Canada do not have valid temporary or permanent status in Canada and survive in the informal economy.

There are a myriad of reasons why people ‘fall out of status’ after arriving in Canada. A missing document from an application to extend a work permit, a breakdown in a marriage leading to the withdrawal of a sponsorship application, being provided bad advice from a shady unlicensed consultant, and not having a safe home to return to are just a few of the reasons that have led people to my office. Often, the only option is an application for permanent residence based on humanitarian and compassionate considerations. However, only 13,500 individuals will obtain permanent status in Canada through the ‘H&C program’ this year, and next year, the program is being cut to 8,000 applicants. IRCC does not publish acceptance rates for this program, but they are declining and could be as low as 30%.

Not having status in Canada puts individuals in a precarious position. A lack of employment rights, no access to health care, and being afraid to call the police for help are just a few problems individuals experience. Some communities in Canada (Ottawa not being one of them) are known as ‘sanctuary cities’ and have policies that permit individuals to receive local services regardless of immigration status.

However, undocumented individuals are a problem for Canadian society, as well. There’s no way to pay your income taxes when you don’t have a SIN, and your employer pays you in cash!

Recognizing the issues caused by a lack of status, in 2021, the Prime Minister, in his mandate letter to then Minister of Immigration Sean Fraser, instructed IRCC to ‘Build on existing pilot programs to explore further ways of regularizing status for undocumented workers who are contributing to Canadian communities.’ The ‘pilot programs’ mentioned include a current program for construction workers in the Toronto area and a pandemic-era program for healthcare workers. The idea has historical precedence; similar programs have been instituted for failed refugee claimants whom the Canadian government decided not to deport (1994-1997), for individuals who had been in Canada for at least five years (1983-1985) and for those who were economically established (1973).

It is currently unknown what type of program the Canadian government will institute. It could be as limited as expanding the construction workers program to other parts of the country or broader. Advocates and academics are weighing in, trying to influence policymakers.

The Members of Parliament my group of students met with (one Conservative and one NPD) told almost identical stories about attending community events where their constituents expressed concerns about newcomers causing a housing shortage and driving up the cost of living. Neither agreed with these views but recognized that ‘selling’ a policy for undocumented workers would be difficult. These individuals are already housed in Canada and contributing to the shadow economy; regularizing their status would not cause a further strain on the housing market and would allow them to participate in the regulated economy. It’s a win–win situation for Canada and the migrants. However, in today’s political climate, we’ll have to see how far the government Liberals are willing to push the Canadian public.