PHOTO: Anu Seghal says she's become depressed after being separated from her infant child Reyansh months longer than expected. She's asking why it's taking so long to bring her child to Canada. (Submitted by Anu Seghal)
The 39-year-old, a permanent resident who lives in Toronto, had her little boy in India last year, but despite following all the right processes, still hasn’t been able to bring him home.
Now, after multiple inquiries to the federal government with little word back, Sehgal wonders if moving to Canada was the right choice for her and her family.
“That was my main motive: to move here for a brighter future for [my] children,” she told CBC News. “I never thought that it would become such a problem.”
Sehgal received her permanent residency in 2019. She originally planned to immigrate to Canada in 2020, but then the pandemic hit.
Last year, another hitch: Sehgal contracted COVID-19 in India. Her doctors advised her to avoid travel, so she had the baby there, further delaying her move.
She finally arrived in Canada this past March, leaving behind her baby and husband, who has yet to apply for residency in Canada. The hope was that by the time she arrived, her son’s temporary residency application would be approved.
It wasn’t. Last month, she decided to file a permanent residency application for her baby, hoping to increase the chances of getting a response.
Immigration lawyers say Sehgal’s applications should have been easy to expedite on compassionate grounds, but could have fallen through the cracks of a backlogged and inefficient immigration system that’s been made worse by COVID-19.
As of May, the IRCC states there are roughly 2.2 million citizenship, temporary and permanent residency applications waiting to be processed — about one million more than before the pandemic, according to the Canadian Immigration Lawyer Association (CILA).
“Why would you not issue the visitor visa in the interim so that the family can reunite?” said immigration lawyer Adrienne Smith, who works with Battista Smith Migration Law Group, based in Toronto.
According to Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada’s website, the average time to process a temporary visa application for someone from India is a little more than four months.
In an email to CBC News, IRCC spokesperson Nancy Caron says the ministry processes 80 per cent of family sponsorship permanent residency applications within 12 months, and welcomed more than 405,000 new permanent residents just last year. That’s the highest annual number of newcomers in Canadian history, IRCC says.
But Smith says cases like Sehgal’s can create a vicious cycle: the more applicants follow up and inquire about their applications, the longer it can take to get them processed because immigration officials need to address those follow-ups, splitting their time between answering inquiries and getting applications processed.
She also says lawyers will look to federal court to intervene in especially egregious cases, which can strain resources even further.
Processing applications in a timely manner would “take the pressure off everyone,” she says.
Ravi Jain, a member of the CILA, says immigration lawyers formed the group last year to find ways to improve the way Canada processes immigrants. He believes if the system is allowed to stay as is, it will continue to let down newcomers and Canadians alike.
“It’s not just the reputation to foreigners that I worry about. It’s also resulting in people losing faith in our immigration system.”
In the IRCC’s statement, Caron says that during the pandemic the department “prioritized the processing of temporary resident visas for essential workers” and for reuniting families, but has since shifted back to standard processing times.
Caron says IRCC is using $85 million in extra federal funding to reduce application backlogs by hiring new processing staff and digitizing applications, among other measures. That’s on top of the $2.1 billion the federal government committed to help process and settle new permanent residents over the next five years.
But Jain says there needs to be greater transparency in IRCC processing times, applications, and reasons for refusals as well as better planning for emergencies that could affect processes, such as COVID-19.
“It’s not good enough to say… ‘We’re spending all this money. We’re hiring all these people,'” he said.
“You guys didn’t pivot, and you’re in charge.”
Meanwhile, Sehgal says being apart from her son has led her to be diagnosed with depression. She says she’s taking medication to treat it and is looking into counselling.
She’s also considering legal advice and help from immigration consultants to find the best way to move forward.
Sehgal wonders what would have happened if she’d been able to give birth in Canada, or if she would have made the same choices knowing that bringing her family to their new home would be such a struggle.
“I don’t think I would have had the courage … if I had known my infant would not be able to come.”
Vanessa Balintec is a reporter for CBC Toronto who likes writing stories about labour, equity and community. She previously worked for stations in New Brunswick and Kitchener-Waterloo. You can reach her at email@example.com and on Twitter at @vanessabalintec.