Liberal MPs put heat on McCallum to address immigration processing ‘mess,’ say lengthy delays ‘unacceptable’


Liberal MPs put heat on McCallum to address immigration processing ‘mess,’ say lengthy delays ‘unacceptable’

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum has been under intense pressure at recent national caucus meetings from Liberal MPs who want him to address the “mess” in the processing times of immigration applications, which in some cases is taking more than six years for family class applications.

“This is not acceptable. We have to do something about it,” Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal (Surrey-Newton, B.C.) told The Hill Times.

In the last two national caucus meetings—Sunday, Jan. 24 and Wednesday, Jan. 27—about 20 MPs spoke up, in total, in both meetings, Liberal sources told The Hill Times. Liberal MPs told Mr. McCallum (Markham-Thornhill, Ont.) that, up until the last election, Conservatives were to be blamed for the slow processing of applications because they were in power. But Canadians now want to know what the Liberals have done to speed up the processing times in the last three months, according to Liberal sources. During the Jan. 24 caucus meeting, Mr. McCallum and his departmental officials conducted a briefing for MPs about the causes of the delay and introduced them to some departmental resources that can help MPs in serving their constituents on immigration files.

Sources told The Hill Times that Liberal MPs recognize that Mr. McCallum and the Immigration Department is focused on the politically sensitive Syrian refugees file, but they also want swift action on Immigration applications in the regular streams.

During the last election campaign, the Liberals had promised to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of last year, but they missed the deadline and are now aiming to achieve this goal by the end of February. As of last week, about 14,000 have arrived in Canada. Because of the high-profile domestic and international implications of the Syrian refugee file, Mr. McCallum and the Immigration Department have been in the media spotlight for months. The Syrian refugee crisis is considered the biggest refugee crisis since the end of World War II and it’s estimated 12 million have been displaced as a result of the civil war in Syria.

Meanwhile, the Immigration application processing times are different for different categories including family class, economic class, refugee and humanitarian and compassionate classes.

In the case of parents and grand parents sponsorship applications, the department is currently processing the ones that were filed on or before Nov. 4, 2011, according to the departmental website. The processing time for spouses or common-law partners living inside Canada is 26 months and for the ones outside of Canada is 17 months.

In the economic class, if an application was filed between 2008 and 2010, the processing time is 67 months while for the ones filed between 2010 and 2014, is 13 months.

Canada takes in about 260,000 immigrants each year in all categories, combined. The statistics were not available for last year, but in 2014, 66,661 received Canadian immigration in the ‘family class’ category, 165,089 in the ‘economic class’ category and 23,286 in the ‘refugee class’ category, according to the departmental website. In 2013, Canada took in a total of 259,023 immigrants including 81,843 in family class, 148,155 in economic immigrant class and 23,831 in refugees class.

In interviews last week, Liberal MPs told The Hill Times that about 60-70 per cent of their constituency work is immigration related and specifically for family class applications.

Mr. Dhaliwal said that Mr. McCallum, who also served in former the Cabinets of prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, has assured MPs that he understands and recognizes the processing of applications and will take steps to speed things up.

“He [Mr. McCallum] has publicly said and he has privately said that he’s going to fix and fix [this issue] once for all. The pressure is on and this is one of the toughest ministries and tasks to handle and John McCallum comes up with a lot of experience behind him. He’s a thoughtful individual and working on this file. We are trying to help him by giving our input and he’s consulting people,” said Mr. Dhaliwal.

In an interview with The Hill Times, Mr. McCallum acknowledged that the immigration processing at this time is a “mess,” but said he’s working on a plan to address the issue to be announced in the next few weeks. He declined to share any specifics.

“In the coming weeks, this will be an item of central importance that we will be working on and talking to the media,” said Mr. McCallum.

Mr. McCallum said that the long delays in processing times have been caused by cut down of resources by the Stephen Harper (Calgary Heritage, Alta.) Conservative government that was in power from 2006 until October of last year.

“For the last decade, the processing times for all forms of family class immigration have gone through the roof. So, today, one can say it is a mess. It’s our top priority over the coming years to bring those processing times down. I will be talking about that when we announce our plan in the next little while. This is not something you can do in a day. We have to put in place additional money, additional measures to improve efficiency and we will have a plan,” said Mr. McCallum.

Conservative MP Jason Kenney (Calgary Midnapore, Alta.), who served as minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism in Mr. Harper’s Cabinet from 2008 to 2013, declined to be interviewed for this article and the Conservative Party’s Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship critic Michelle Rempel (Calgary Nose Hill, Alta.) did not respond to an interview request.

Five-term Conservative MP David Tilson (Dufferin-Caledon, Ont.) who was the chair of the Commons Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in the last Parliament, did not respond directly to the Liberals blaming the Conservatives for the mess because their government cut down resources that caused the lengthy delays of processing of immigration applications. Instead, he questioned that if the Liberals can process applications of thousands of Syrian refugees in a space of two months, why can’t they do the same for the applications in other streams. Mr. Tilson said that a balance should be struck between Syrian refugee applications and the ones already in the system.

“Listen, the Syrian people have gone through a terrible time and we all, no matter who you are, have sympathy for that. But I have sympathy [as well] for some of the way people are treated in other parts of the world. And, why are we ignoring them,” said Mr. Tilson.

“The question is why 10,000 Syrian refugees are being able to come to this country in two months and others are pushed further down in the backlog, from other nations. Why is that? The answer is because they [Liberals] have made a political decision, which they think is the right one, and I think we should be treating everyone the same.”

NDP Immigration critic Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, B.C.) told The Hill Times that before the Liberals came to power, individual MPs were able to contact Canadian visa offices in other countries, directly, to find out the exact reason for delays. But, since Dec. 18, MPs are no longer allowed to do that and can only contact the department which has made the information-gathering process even less efficient. She said that her staff has communicated this concern as well as suggestions on how to improve the system to Mr. McCallum’s staff and are now awaiting for action.

“That has been a major point of concern for a lot of MPs because if you can’t get the information, it’s not particularly useful and helpful,” Ms. Kwan said.

Meanwhile, Liberal MPs interviewed for this article said that frustrated constituents contact their offices every week seeking help on immigration issues. They said the bulk of the complaints are related to delays in the family class immigration.

“Oh yes. This is the No. 1 issue. It’s the amount of time it takes to get any family members here,” said Liberal MP Judy Sgro (Humber River-Black Creek, Ont.) in an interview last week.

“Oh, very upset. Why wouldn’t they be? They want their mother or father to join them, or, most importantly, it’s the spousal [applications] that causes the problem, or you get frustrated husbands or wives that are waiting for their partners to arrive [as soon as possible].”

Rookie Liberal MP Gary Anandasangaree (Scarborough-Rouge Park, Ont.) also echoed Ms. Sgro’s views.

“Many people are concerned. Many constituents have called. I was just reading an email, just now, from a constituent who has been waiting for 17 months for his spouse and two kids. It’s definitely an issue,” said Mr. Anandasangaree.

“It’s a really long time frame. It’s very important that we have a timely reunification of families, particularly when people get married. I’ve seen delays of even over two years and what ends up happening is the relationship kind of drifts over that time. So, that poses some problems, as well.”