The first thing Vikramjit Brar does every morning is check his phone, hoping for good news from Canada’s Immigration Service – that he will finally be able to reunite with his aging parents for good.
Tens of thousands of miles away in Punjab, India, his parents do the same.
But after five disappointing years and growth, the family loses hope.
Brar, a longtime Calgary resident who recently moved to nearby Airdrie, applied in 2018 to sponsor his parents for permanent residency. He says it’s been three years since he’s seen any progress with their application.
“We want to take care of them. We want them to be part of our lives,” says Brar, who has lived in Canada for more than 15 years.
“They are stressed, we are stressed and there is no way out. No one hears our story… They don’t even look at us.”
Desperate for answers, Brar says he’s been in contact with multiple immigration advisers, and he regularly sends web forms to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), but rarely gets a response. Lately he can only get updates if his local MP contacts on his behalf, he says.
“For the past three years, the answer they’ve given me is that the file is in the background check (process),” Brar said.
From 2015 to 2018, his parents lived in Canada on a super visa, but Brar says an extension has been denied. He applied for them again in 2021, but again heard nothing from IRCC, he says.
The 34-year-old says he has put his life on hold. He and his wife wait for his parents to arrive to have a baby. But at the moment he doesn’t know when that will be.
He’s not alone. According to the latest data from the IRCC, more than two million immigration applications are pending processing, including:
- 632,000 applications for permanent residence.
- 1,080,000 applications for temporary residence.
- 294,000 citizenship applications.
Of all those applications, 809,000 are overdue, including 51 percent of permanent residence applications.
IRCC did not provide specifics for the parent and grandparent program Brar signed up for, but immigration lawyers say this is an increasingly common story and something needs to change if the federal government plans to continue welcoming immigrants to Canada.
No invitations to apply in 2023
Jatin Shory, an immigration and refugee attorney at Shory Law in Calgary, says a five-year wait is unreasonable.
According to the IRCC website, the usual processing time for parent and grandparent applications is currently 24 months.
“While we can understand that Canada’s immigration system needs to be diligent, families are clearly suffering,” Shory said.
He says certain factors, such as the country they come from and their careers, can play a role in delays.
Under this particular stream, Canadians must file an interest with IRCC to sponsor their parents or grandparents for permanent residency. From there, IRCC draws names – like a lottery – to invite them to apply. People can only apply if they are invited and eligible.
Shory says IRCC usually has a draw every year. But there have been no draws at all this year, he says, and IRCC has not announced if or when the next draw will take place.
“It’s a shame it gets put on the back burner from time to time,” Shory said.
“The main concern right now is what happens next. Will we get an answer to whether this will be a priority for the government this year or not?”
Family reunification a priority, says IRCC
Michelle Carbert, a spokesperson for IRCC, would not comment on Brar’s specific case, citing privacy laws.
However, she said in a statement that family reunification is a priority for IRCC, which is why the agency has raised targets in its latest immigration level plan.
“In 2023, we are ambitious to welcome 28,500 individuals through (the program for parents and grandparents), rising to 36,000 individuals in 2025,” the statement said.
“While applications from parents and grandparents are processed in the order they are received, more complex applications may take longer for a variety of reasons specific to the case,” the statement said.
The online portal for people to apply has been closed since December 2022, she said, confirming that no announcement has been made about the next intake, but information will be provided on their website and social media as soon as it is available.
Not ready for immigration wave
Calgary immigration attorney Evelyn Ackah says the explanation for delays is simple: IRCC is still working on backlogs from the pandemic, and some groups are paying the price.
“They prioritize people who come to Canada and directly contribute to the Canadian economy,” Ackah said.
“Unfortunately, I think the parents and grandparents category is not seen as a critical category as they continue to catch up on COVID-related delays.”
She says the Immigration Service is constantly working to improve the efficiency of its system, but she doesn’t think it’s ready to welcome 1.5 million immigrants by 2025 — a federal government plan announced last year.
“I don’t think the system is all set and set up and stable enough for that to happen,” Ackah said. “There will definitely be problems along the way.”
Meanwhile, Ackah says she has one piece of advice for Brar: keep hope alive.
“It’s getting to the point of approval and I hope the parents can get to Canada soon so he can start his life here with them.”