A growing backlog of applications during the COVID-19 pandemic last year means permanent residents are waiting longer to become Canadian citizens, a CBC report reveals.
The Canadian public broadcaster’s news reporters went through internal Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) e-mails. In doing so, they discovered the backlog of permanent residents ready to take the citizenship test rose by about 17 per cent from 87,000 in March last year to 102,000 at the start of this year.
The news team also discovered there were more than 311,250 people waiting to go through the application process for citizenship at the end of January. A third of them, 102,989, had been waiting for between 13 and 18 months and as many as 865 had been waiting for more than four years.
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The CBC gained access to the internal immigration department e-mails after an advocacy group, Advocates for Citizenship Test, filed an access to information request.
Ahsan Umar, the head of that ad hoc advocacy group, bemoans the immigration department’s lack of transparency and what she described as unreasonable delays.
“One hundred and two thousand applicants, that’s just like the size of a mid-sized city in Canada,” she reportedly said.
“We all understand reasonable delays because of this whole situation we are in. But when it gets to lack of transparency and unreasonable delays, that instils a lot of deep sorrow in itself.”
After the pandemic hit in January of last year, the IRCC took a series of steps to cut down on processing times for permanent residency applications. Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino outlined his vision for a completely digital immigration process that would speed things up.
Canada Immigration System To Go Fully Digital
“My vision for our immigration system going forward is that it is completely virtual and touchless and that each and every one of these steps is integrated so that we become the envy of the world,” he said in an online interview with TVO earlier this year.
Canada is already a world leader in putting its immigration processes online, he said.
“In a world that is increasingly going virtual, we are leading the way, especially when it comes to our immigration system,” he said in that interview. “We are the only ones that have moved our citizenship ceremony online, to my knowledge, and now we are also moving into the digital space when it comes to testing applicants.”
As early as Canada Day last year, the country was ready to hold its first-ever simultaneous, virtual citizenship ceremony. During the COVID-19 pandemic, that ceremony on July 1 was specifically for healthcare workers.
Since then, Canada has upped its digitization of the immigration process. In an e-mail to CBC News, the IRCC reportedly noted it had sent out 65,893 online test invitations by the end of this April, and almost 43,700 people had completed their citizenship tests.
Although immigration fell off drastically last year due to COVID-19 border and travel restrictions, Canada has raised immigration targets to bring in more immigrants than ever.
Ottawa Bullish On Immigration
The federal government wants to welcome more than 1.2 million newcomers between 2021 and 2023. There are to be 401,000 new permanent residents to Canada this year, 411,000 next year, and 421,000 in 2023.
Earlier this month, the immigration minister said he’s confident Ottawa will be able to hit those targets.
“When I tabled the immigration plan a little while ago, we could have put a pause, we could have reversed, we could have cut immigration but I believe, I firmly believe and our government believes that through immigration we will continue to grow,” he said.
“I am confident that we can hit the levels that we have set … I’m confident because we are innovating at quantum speed … We have created new policies that will allow people into the country but in a manner that is safe.”