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Heavy partner and spouse sponsorship backlog hits Canadian families

July 17th, 2014

3 July 2014

It has recently come to light that many Canadian families are caught in a backlog of spousal and partner sponsorship applications that is currently taking around 11 months. Applicants have always been told to expect a six month wait for approval of phase one of the family immigration process, but this additional five months has caused hardship for a large number of people. During phase one the foreign partner or spouse can legally remain in Canada but not work or access free medical care.

What is meant by phase one and two?

When a partner or spousal sponsorship application is made, whether inside or outside Canada, the immigration process begins which involves checking the Canadian sponsor to make sure that they can support the other party. This is where the backlog has occurred at the moment and because failure of this phase will mean that the family sponsorship application will be unsuccessful, it is not permitted for the foreign partner to work or seek national health care in Canada. When this phase has been passed successfully, the next stage begins and this can be quite lengthy, depending on the country of origin of the foreign spouse. The good thing is that if the foreign partner or spouse is living in Canada at this point, they can work and get free medical assistance while they wait. Some countries can take a long time – currently, for example, Islamabad is taking as long as 32 months to process phase two – and so for those applying from outside Canada the wait and separation from their family can be very long indeed because no entry is allowed while the process is on-going. Families are finding that the whole thing is becoming very stressful, with no right or wrong answer as to whether to apply inside or outside of Canada because each method has its downside. For those caught currently in the backlog there is no recourse but to wait – pulling out will send a person to the back of the queue to begin again.

No explanation for the backlog

The current government of Canada is blaming the Liberal government for the problems, which they say are caused by previous policies. The Conservative government has been in power for eight years, during which time the problem has worsened. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) encourage everyone applying for a partner or spousal sponsorship visa to do so from outside of Canada but it is difficult for many to comply with this advice, especially where children are involved. In some cases, the foreign spouse is the principal care-giver as they are unable to work outside of the home and it is not always practical to take children out of the country, especially if they are of school age. New legislation regarding dependent children is coming into force later this year, which may in some cases confuse the situation even further.

Some people who have contacted groups set up to help those stuck in the backlog have reported receiving advice suggesting that applying in Canada is not the method of choice. Some have had advice suggesting that applying from outside Canada – which can only be done when the foreign spouse is resident in their country of nationality – is the best way forward without specific detail. It is true that the timescale for phase one, which involves checking the sponsoring Canadian citizen’s or permanent resident’s eligibility, can be very much shorter when the application is made abroad but the second phase, that of checking the foreign spouse for criminal and health issues, can take much longer. In most cases the foreign partner or spouse cannot join their loved one in Canada which causes some families extreme hardship. Others again have been told that ‘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.’ But this is too late for those already caught in the current immigration backlog.