Thousands of would-be permanent residents in limbo after visa-office closure
Published Saturday, February 2, 2013 10:13PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, February 2, 2013 11:24PM EST
Thousands of people who are seeking permanent residency status in Canada are caught in a backlog of applications created after the closure of a visa-processing office in Buffalo.
The group of applicants, dubbed “the forgotten of Buffalo,” says that about 10,000 applications are in limbo after the office was closed last May.
The pending applications were shipped to Ottawa for what the federal government promised would be faster processing, but would-be permanent residents have been left waiting longer than first estimated.
The backlog has left people unable to look for work or get adequate healthcare.
“The delay was supposed to be 11 months,” Michele Doiron, a spokesperson for the group, told a news conference earlier this week. “But after two years, many don’t have any news.”
Sofia Carerro has enrolled herself in a variety of courses in order to stay in Canada legally while she waits for her application to be processed. That, she says, has forced her to pay tens of thousands of dollars in fees charged to international students.
But she does not see herself returning to Venezuela.
“My family is giving up so many things to improve my life,” Carerro told CTV News.
The federal government has promised that all outstanding applications will be processed by the summer, and the change will streamline the process going forward.
“They used to do what’s called ‘the Buffalo shuffle,’” Kenney said. “They’d cross the bridge into Buffalo, go and wait in the office, make their applications there. That’s no longer necessary. We’ve eliminated that step.”
But immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann said the Buffalo visa office was “the mothership of all visa processing around the world,” and the backlog from its closure could have been prevented with a little careful planning.
“Just taking that work and divvying it up and giving it to offices that already exist, and not resourcing them to handle the incoming work, creates a tremendous crisis,” Mamann told CTV.
In the meantime, the NDP are calling for a temporary solution to help those whose temporary visas have expired.
NDP immigration critic Jinny Sims said a pregnant applicant, for example, will be unable to get health coverage because she does not have status in Canada.
"These immigrants deserve clear and transparent information from the government on the status of their applications," Sims said.
"Their applications must be made a priority and the government must provide additional resources so these people can finally obtain their permanent resident status. The government must deal with this serious blunder."
Kenney said the federal government has cut a backlog of permanent residency applications by half since 2006.
With a report from CTV’s Omar Sachedina and files from The Canadian Press
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