I read Marianne Piller’s letter in the May 6, 2015 Tribune with a sad sense of recognition. Her story is very familiar to me — there are many other people in the Cariboo region with similar stories.
I began working for the Williams Lake Branch of Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society of Prince George in January of 2013. We are a non-profit organization which provides free settlement support and English Language classes for newcomers to Canada.
Recent changes to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) processes have led to long processing times and a lot of confusion. As Ms. Piller points out, some CIC offices have changed responsibility, so applications may have been sent to the wrong place. Fees have increased. Or online forms are revised. Or additional forms are requested. People have to re-submit their applications, sometimes more than once. This has happened with all programs, but the Spousal Sponsorship program has been particularly difficult for families.
First, as Ms. Piller knows, simply marrying a Canadian does not make a person Canadian. Spouses do not automatically receive a Green Card as they might in the U.S. The Canadian spouse must first apply to become a sponsor. If the foreign-born spouse remains in his or her home country, this process takes about two months. The second stage is to approve the foreign-born spouse’s application, which depends on his or her country of origin: it could take as little as eight months from Paris or Sao Paulo, or as long as 32 months from Los Angeles.
However, if the couple applies for Inland sponsorship so that they can live together as a married couple in Canada, the first step of the process — approval of the Canadian spouse — takes up to 17 months. Then the second step of the process — approval of the foreign-born spouse — begins. He or she may be asked to provide police checks, medical exams from accredited doctors, etc. The second stage is presently taking 10 months.
This makes a total of 27 months. In Ms. Piller’s case, that means she could be granted permanent resident status by February 2017.
Many spouses come to Canada on visitor visas, which means they cannot work, are not eligible for MSP, and cannot attend school or do training. If they travel out of Canada, they may not be permitted to return. Once their permanent resident application is approved, they are required to pay an additional right of permanent residence fee of $490.
Our office is open between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. from Monday to Friday. We answer questions about the process, help people find and fill out forms, and can help people check the status of their application on-line. Our services are free, and while we cannot speed up any process, we can assure people that their experience is unfortunately not unusual.
Sharon Taylor, settlement practitioner
Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society (Williams Lake Branch)