Good news for couples - IRCC commits to speedier processing times in spousal sponsorship applications

by Ronalee Carey Law

September 2020

Yesterday, part of our day was spent moving large spousal sponsorship files from the office cabinet to our back room. Due to the slowdown in processing during COVID, spousal sponsorships are so backed up that we don’t have enough room in our cabinets for all our pending files. As an example, our office submitted a sponsorship back in March, and we have yet to hear back about whether the file was even received by IRCC over six months later. The couple has remained separated with no end in sight.

Being in long-distance relationships are already tough for couples who face long periods of separation due to processing times in spousal sponsorships. Pre-pandemic, the government committed to processing these applications in about 12 months. In the meanwhile, if the spouse living abroad was from a visa-requiring country, it was close to impossible to obtain a visitor visa to travel to Canada and live with the sponsor during the wait (see our September 2017 newsletter). This is because IRCC is typically reluctant to find that the visiting spouse is only coming for a temporary purpose, despite the dual intent policy stating that an individual can legally have both a temporary and permanent intent to stay.

When the pandemic hit, this already difficult time was exacerbated by more uncertainty. At first, many family members, even from non-visa requiring countries, were denied entry to Canada to visit loved ones (see our May newsletter). Later, IRCC updated its policy to exempt some family members, including spouses, from the travel ban (see our June newsletter). However, for those spouses who reside in visa-requiring countries, these changes offer little relief, as visas are still routinely denied for being the romantic partner of a Canadian citizen. These couples are at the mercy of their sponsorship getting processed as soon as possible, so they can be reunited with their loved one.

Prioritizing family reunification has been brought front and centre thanks to advocacy efforts of immigration practitioners, couples reaching out to news agencies, and MP’s such as Jenny Kwan (see her letter addressed to our Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, highlighting the issues these couples are facing). It appears the government has heard these complaints. In yesterday evening’s news release, IRCC announced its commitment to speed up spousal sponsorship processing times by implementing the following changes:

  • Increasing the number of decision makers by 66%
  • Leveraging new technology in a pilot to digitize paper applications, so they can be processed more efficiently by IRCC employees working remotely at various worksites
  • Implementing facilitative biometrics measures (see their recent welcome announcement regarding no longer requiring new biometrics from those who have provided them in that past 10 years)
  • Piloting the use of technology to conduct interviews with applicants remotely

The news release outlines that the goal is to finalize about 6000 spousal applications per month from October to December 2020. In total, they are hoping to make 49,000 decisions by the end of the year.

This announcement comes as a relief to couples waiting with no end in sight. It will also help IRCC in its recovery to meet its immigration levels plans, which were derailed when the pandemic first caused the system to grind to a slow trickle.

IRCC is a large bureaucracy, and there are still many rules that don’t make sense or could be addressed with simple technological solutions, such as scanning applications in after they are received. Processing procedures could also be streamlined. Currently, some applications can still only be made by paper, while others have moved completely online. Some require original signatures, whereas in others, scans are enough. In some cases, the signature has to be blue, while for others it must be black. Making submission requirements consistent would make it easier for officers to review and make decisions on applications.

This recent announcement demonstrates that IRCC has the ability make necessary changes that increases efficiency within the system. As we saw with the excellent processes implemented for those impacted by the Beirut explosions, where there is a will, there is a way. While the pandemic has created immeasurable hardships for so many, IRCC can provide a silver lining by stepping up to implement changes that create more efficient and compassionate processes for future applicants.