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Ongoing immigration delays leave Calgarian waiting 5 years to reunite with parents

The first thing Vikramjit Brar does every morning is check his phone, hoping for good news from Canada’s immigration department — that he’ll finally be able to reunite with his aging parents for good.

Tens of thousands of kilometres away in Punjab, India, his parents do the same thing.

But after five disappointing years and growing, the family is losing hope.

Brar, a longtime Calgary resident who recently moved to nearby Airdrie, applied to sponsor his parents for permanent residency in 2018. He says it’s been three years since he’s seen any progress made on their application.

“We want to take care of them. We want them to be part of our lives,” said Brar, who has lived in Canada for more than 15 years.

“They’re stressed out, we’re stressed out and there’s no outcome. Nobody’s even hearing our story.… They’re not even looking at us.”

A couple in their 60s wearing winter coats
Vikramjit Brar’s parents, Bakhtaur and Surjeet. They’re in Sri Muktsar Sahib, India, as they wait for their permanent residency application to be approved. (Submitted by Vikramjit Brar)

Desperate for answers, Brar says he’s been in touch with multiple immigration consultants, and he regularly sends web forms to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) but rarely receives a response. Recently, he’s been able to get updates only when his local MP reaches out on his behalf, he says.

“The last three years, the answer they have been giving me is that the file is in the background check [process],” said Brar.

From 2015 to 2018, his parents were in Canada on a super visa, but Brar says an extension was denied. He reapplied for them in 2021 but again did not hear back from IRCC, he says.

The 34-year-old says he’s put his life on hold. He and his wife are waiting until his parents have arrived to have a baby. But at this point, 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 waiting to be processed, including:

  • 632,000 permanent residence applications. 
  • 1,080,000 temporary residence applications.
  • 294,000 citizenship applications.

Of all those applications, 809,000 are backlogged — including 51 per cent of permanent residence applications.

IRCC did not provide specific data for the parents and grandparents program that Brar applied under, but immigration lawyers say this is an increasingly common story and something needs to change if the federal government intends to continue welcoming immigrants to Canada.

No invitations to apply in 2023

Jatin Shory, an immigration and refugee lawyer at Shory Law in Calgary, says a five-year wait is unreasonable.

According to the IRCC website, usual processing times for parent and grandparent applications is currently 24 months.

“While we can appreciate that there’s a need for the immigration system in Canada to be diligent … families obviously suffer,” said Shory.

He says certain factors, like the country they’re moving from and their careers, can play a role in delays.

A screenshot of the IRCC's website that shows processing times for parents or grandparents at 24 months
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s website shows processing times for parent and grandparent applications are sitting at 24 months. Vikramjit Brar and his parents have been waiting more than double that time. (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada)

Under this specific stream, Canadians must submit interest to 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 submit an application if they’ve been invited and are eligible.

Shory says IRCC usually has a draw every year. But there have been no draws at all this year, he says, and IRCC hasn’t announced if or when the next draw will be made.

“It is unfortunate that it does get put on the back burner from time to time,” said Shory.

“The biggest concern right now is what’s happening next. Are we going to get an answer in terms of whether this is going to be a priority for the government or not this year?”

Family reunification a priority, says IRCC

Michelle Carbert, a spokesperson for IRCC, would not comment on Brar’s specific case, citing privacy legislation.

However, she said in a statement that family reunification is a priority for IRCC, which is why the agency has increased targets in its latest immigration levels plan.

“In 2023, we look to ambitiously welcome 28,500 individuals through [the parents and grandparents program], increasing to 36,000 individuals in 2025,” said the statement.

“While parent and grandparent applications are processed in the order they are received, more complex applications may take longer for a variety of reasons specific to the case,” said the statement.

The online portal for people to apply has been closed since December 2022, she said, and confirmed no announcement has been made on the next intake but information will be provided on their website and social media when it’s available.

Not ready for wave of immigration

Calgary immigration lawyer Evelyn Ackah says the explanation for delays is simple: IRCC is still working through backlogs from the pandemic, and some groups are paying the price.

“They’re prioritizing people that are going to come to Canada and contribute directly to the Canadian economy,” said Ackah.

“Unfortunately, I think the parents and grandparents category is not seen as a crucial category while they’re still catching up on delays related to COVID.”

A lawyer wearing a yellow floral dress posing for a photo
Evelyn Ackah is a Calgary lawyer and founder of Ackah Business Immigration Law. (Submitted by Evelyn Ackah)

She says the immigration department 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 plan the federal government announced last year.

“I don’t think the system is quite ready and set up and stable enough for that to happen,” said Ackah. “There will definitely be problems along the way.”

Meanwhile, Ackah says she has one piece of advice for Brar: keep hope alive.

“It will get to the place of approval, and I hope that the parents will be able to be in Canada soon so he can start his life with them here.”

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