Canada to fast-track hundreds of visa applications after Typhoon Haiyan
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Sunday, November 17, 2013 9:58AM EST
Last Updated Sunday, November 17, 2013 2:45PM EST
The federal government expects to fast-track hundreds of visa applications, and perhaps many more, from Filipinos affected by Typhoon Haiyan.
The Canadian government announced last week that consular officials are working around the clock to process visa applications submitted by Filipinos, as well as to assist Canadians in the country who may have lost travel documents or have other needs.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander told CTV's Question Period that his department has already identified hundreds of visa applications that will receive swift attention, but that number could rise as more people affected by the storm are identified.
"We are zeroing in on the (applications) that involve people or families from the big island hit by the typhoon or smaller islands who have experienced this devastation," Alexander said in an interview that aired Sunday.
"Those are the ones who need help urgently because they've lost their homes, in some cases they've lost everything, their livelihoods, and they can benefit from the help of family and community here in Canada if we bring those cases to the front."
Alexander invited Canadians to help his department identify even more urgent cases to ensure everyone who needs it gets the help the government is offering.
According to Alexander, before the typhoon hit the Philippines was expected to be one of the top countries of origin for immigrants to Canada next year. The federal government had already increased its target numbers for the live-in caregiver program to 17,500 due to a backlog, a move "that will benefit many Filipino families," he said.
"As this crisis unfolds there may be other ways that we can show compassion and help," Alexander said.
"Let's keep in mind there are several humanitarian programs that Canada has for refugees -- privately sponsored (or) government-assisted -- and also for other humanitarian cases that Canadians can look at."
Alexander said he expects some Canadians will step forward with offers to adopt Filipino children who lost their parents in the typhoon.
"I'm sure that will be part of the response that we will continue to have," Alexander said, noting that Canadians have shown "an outpouring of support in all forms," including financial donations that allow "aid agencies to be nimble and present where they are needed."
The federal government will match dollar-for-dollar all donations Canadians make until December 8.
Consular officials are also trying to determine how many Canadians are in the country, how many may be affected by the typhoon and if there are any Canadian casualties. While communication systems were ravaged by the typhoon, Canadians in the Philippines are being asked to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Meanwhile, Alexander noted that Canadian Forces members, including the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), are on the ground to provide emergency assistance in the typhoon-ravaged areas.
There are nearly 200 Canadian Forces personnel on the ground in the Philippines to clear debris, escort humanitarian convoys and help prevent the spread of disease among the thousands of people displaced by the typhoon.
"We are very proud of what the Canadian Forces are already doing with water purification, with first aid teams and providing that first-rate logistical backbone," Alexander said.