Couple rejected over South Asian ‘stereotypes’ caught in immigration appeals backlog
It took immigration officials 27 months to process — and reject — Rehnuma Yusuf’s spousal sponsorship, in part because the visa officer questioned the legitimacy of their marriage, because she is older and a divorcee. Now, the Toronto woman will have to wait 18 more months just to have her appeal heard.
Is it beyond belief that an older divorced South Asian woman could fall in love with a younger man?
Yes — at least in the eyes of one Canadian visa officer who questioned the legitimacy of their marriage and shattered their plans to be together.
In what their lawyer calls a case of cultural bias, Rehnuma Yusuf, 29, and her Bangladeshi husband, Munim Ahsan, 27, are now caught in a bureaucratic nightmare, fighting to reverse an immigration decision to reject their spousal sponsorship application — and facing another unbearable, lengthy wait.
“The officer had this old idea of cultural norms and based the assessment on the stereotypes of how the South Asian culture should work, but not based on the reality,” said lawyer Aadil Mangalji. “We need these prejudicial findings overturned.”
Yusuf, an administrative assistant, met Ahsan, a sound engineer, through relatives while Yusuf was visiting Bangladesh in March 2012. They got married at the end of that year, and she applied to sponsor him to Canada in May 2013.
It took immigration officials 27 months to process and reject Yusuf’s application on the grounds the marriage was not genuine, noting the bride is a divorcee and older than the groom — both presumably “against” the South Asian culture and tradition, according to Mangalji.
Recently, the Toronto woman was told she will have to wait another year and a half just to have her appeal heard at the Immigration Appeal Division (IAD), an independent tribunal that reviews these cases and deals with disputes between applicants and immigration officers.
The reason: According to the Immigration and Refugee Board, the number of adjudicators handling such cases fell from 164 to 86 amid immigration reforms introduced in 2012 by the former Conservative government.
“We waited more than two years for a decision on our sponsorship. Now we have to wait 18 months for a hearing. It could take another year even if we win our appeal, and there’s no guarantee we’ll win,” said Yusuf, who came here from Bangladesh with her family when she was 11.
“We have been married for four years but we still haven’t been able to live a married life. It is causing a lot of problems in our relationship. My husband thinks that I’m not working hard enough to get him here.”
According to the IRB, which administers the appeals tribunal, the average processing time for these appeals now stands at 17.8 months nationally — 26.8 months in Eastern Canada, 16.4 in Central Region and 9.4 for British Columbia and the Prairies.
IRB spokesperson Anna Pape said a period of high intake for cases and a reduced number of decision-makers resulted in a growing backlog of unresolved immigration appeals, such as refused sponsorship applications and removal orders, along with an increase in average processing time.
“During this period, the IRB has been dealing with a backlog of refugee claims and had to assign more members to deal with those cases. As a result, there were fewer decision-makers available for assignment to the Immigration Appeal Division,” said Pape.
“The cases the IAD adjudicates have also become more complex. This has caused hearings to take longer than they used to. Wait times in the IAD are too long, but the division is addressing this problem.”
Mitchell Goldberg, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, said the backlog is not just a result of dwindling resources but a conscious political decision not to appoint enough independent adjudicators to fill the tribunal’s capacity.
As of March of this year, there were 10,400 cases in the backlog.
Although the IAD offers alternative dispute resolution to settle cases before a full hearing, Goldberg said it is a “mixed bag” — about 40 to 45 per cent of all appeals are resolved without going to a full hearing.
“Our clients are already separated from their spouses, and sometimes their children, while waiting over two years for their sponsorship processing. They wait to get a hearing for the appeal. Even if an appeal is accepted, they have to wait again for further processing of the sponsorship,” said Goldberg. “It’s just unacceptable.”
The IRB’s Pape said the tribunal would like to cut the processing time to 10 months by reducing the backlog to 7,000 by the end of next year. More adjudicators will be joining the tribunal, she said.
The tribunal will also pilot an “early informal resolution process” and electronic case filing system soon, as new ways of processing appeals, Pape noted.