Canadian partner and spousal family sponsorship backlog is causing distress

Published: 01/07/2014

1 July 2014

There are fears growing in Canada that the ‘inland sponsorship program’ is about to be scrapped, fuelled by the current backlog in the processing of immigration applications for foreign partners and spouses already living in the country. This program currently allows a foreign national in a de facto relationship with or married to a Canadian citizen or permanent resident to apply for sponsorship to stay in the country if they are already living in Canada with valid temporary status. It is possible for the foreign national to return to their home country and apply from there, but in many cases there are very strong reasons to avoid taking this route such as issues regarding family and work commitments. In any event, husbands and wives clearly do not want to be separated when the application is made, which in some instances may take a number of years to be processed by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).

Backlog now stands at eleven months

An application for Canadian family sponsorship once took on average six months to get through stage one of the two stage process. Now it takes eleven. The first stage is the initial assessment of the sponsor’s eligibility and then the sponsored spouse must be checked for both criminal and health issues that could possibly make then ineligible for a partner or spouse visa. While phase two is being finalised, the foreign spouse is allowed to work and access healthcare in Canada. Before reaching the second phase it is not possible for the foreign spouse to undertake employment, but more importantly, healthcare must be paid for privately which often puts a strain on the person’s finances. The exact number of people who are trapped in the backlog at the moment is unknown, but an average of 8000 new in-Canada applications are normally processed annually, so this gives an estimate of how many must be involved. This represents around 20% of all spousal and partner visa applications.

Government cutbacks in the past may be the cause

The spokesperson for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, Alexis Pavlich, has been quoted as suggesting that Liberal governments in the past have sought to save money across the board and one of their measures was cutting immigration levels, thus creating the massive backlogs that the Conservatives have been struggling with for the past eight years. He said, ‘Family reunification is an integral part of our immigration program. Canada has one of the most generous family reunification programs in the world …Our government is actively working to shorten wait times.’ This reasoning is not accepted by everyone caught in the backlog, but the fact does remain that immigration backlogs are longer than they once were and people are being put under a great deal of pressure. A group has been formed which is calling for improving the processing time for inland spousal sponsorship.

Assessment times do vary

According to CIC (Citizenship and Immigration Canada), the initial assessment of partner and spousal sponsorships filed overseas takes 55 days, compared to 11 months for the in-Canada applicants. However, it has to be taken into account that the second phase screening of sponsored spouses can take a lot longer if the process is initiated from outside Canada. Processing times vary. For example, on average applications made in Beijing, China can take nine months, whereas and application made in Islamabad, Pakistan will take approximately 32 months. In general inland applications only take eight months to pass through this phase. This means that the applications, whether overseas or in Canada, can take roughly the same time. In principle applicants can apply either in Canada or in their home country, but the government has gone on record to suggest that ‘it is always in the client’s best interests to apply abroad.’ One applicant received a letter from the CIC which stated this in no uncertain terms, saying ‘There are distinct disadvantages to applying from within Canada, including noticeably longer processing times, lack of status, inability to work and ineligibility for provincial/territorial health insurance coverage.’

The CIC website makes a special point of flagging up any forthcoming changes – for example, changes in August relating to dependent children – and so anyone with any concerns can look up things like waiting times and any special requirements that they may have. However, the immigration backlog that is currently affecting the application process has not been fully reported so there is no way to tell how much longer Canadian partner and marriage visa applications already being processed by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) might take.

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