December 11, 2023

Immigration Marriage

Feel Good With Immigration

Newlywed GTA couple could be forced apart because of immigration processing delays

A newlywed North York man could find himself forced apart from the woman he just married as he waits for his Canadian permanent residency application to be approved amid immigration processing backlogs.

Ahmed Emam, 31, was just married last month in Mississauga and has been planning a summer wedding celebration in Egypt, where he was born.

There’s just one problem: If Emam goes, he might not be allowed back into Canada. 

And with his application still waiting to be green-lit, there’s a chance he’ll be forced to return to Egypt even if he cancels the celebration — unless he’s approved to stay soon.

“You can stay hopeful until a point in time, but after that, you’re done. You don’t know what to do,” Emam told CBC News.

Emam has been waiting for his permanent residency application to be approved for two and a half years now. He’s been in the country since 2018, first arriving as an international student to complete a masters at the University of Toronto, then working as a data engineer.

He’s currently on a work permit set to expire in July and now nervously wonders if he will be separated from his wife Bassant as he awaits word on his application.

Running low on hope

“I have been living here… I have a life, right? I have a social network,” he said. “What’s going to happen to my wife? Are we going to stay away and apart for, like, a year until the IRCC decides that, hey, we’re done with the application?”

ahmed and wife
Emam, a data engineer, says he has a good job and wants to keep building his life with his wife in Canada. (Submitted by Ahmed Emam)

Both Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada as well as an immigration lawyer not connected with this case say Emam is far from alone in experiencing years-long processing times. It’s unclear how many are in Emam’s situation, but the IRCC says 46 per cent of applications are not being processed within its service standards.

That’s left some, including Emam, running low on hope.

Emam says he’s invested thousands of dollars into Canada but despite doing everything right, he feels his application isn’t being processed justly. He also says he’s seen his friends’ applications processed faster.

At his wits’ end and on the advice of a lawyer, this past January, Emam submitted a second application to stay in the country, through the Canadian Experience Class — a program for those with at least one year of eligible skilled work experience in Canada. With his permanent residency application languishing, the hope was to gain status through a different pathway.

Emam says he and his MP — Michael Coteau, who represents the Don Valley East riding — have requested updates about his file, which have indicated that he is eligible for the program.

But the status update on the IRCC website shows the department hasn’t completed all of the necessary steps such as checking for a criminal record. And there’s no mechanism to accelerate the processing times, he says.

Long delays ‘very common,’ says lawyer

Immigration lawyer Shalini Konanur, executive director of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, says she has clients frustrated and worried about applications they filed in 2019 and 2020.

Konanur says she thinks Emam made the right move to put in a second application for a different program because some are being processed more quickly than others.

She also says the IRCC must improve its processes.

Shalini Konanur
Shalini Konanur, an immigration lawyer, says some of her clients have been waiting years for their permanent residence applications to be processed. (Submitted by Shalini Konanur)

“On the one hand, we hear in the news every day about labour market shortages,” said Konanur. “On the other hand, we also hear the news about the backlog…people waiting years to get processed.”

Konanur says she doesn’t believe the IRCC has staffed the department well enough to tackle the backlog.

“There was already a backlog and with more people coming in, that backlog is going to get bigger and bigger,” Konanur said. “If we say it’s a priority…then we need to resource it as a priority.” 

IRCC acknowledges backlog

A spokesperson for the IRRC told CBC News the department is aware of the backlog and that 54 per cent of applications are within service standards as of Feb. 28.

The IRCC’s goal is for “80 per cent of new applications to be processed within service standards,” the statement said.

“We know there is more work to do, and we will continue to do what it takes to get there,” it continued.

ahmed and wife 2
Emam says his wife brings hope into his life and that it’s hard to think about being apart from her for any extended period of time. (Submitted by Ahmed Emam)

For his part, Emam says he has considered putting in a third application.

The couple is worried and frustrated, but he says Bassant “brings the hopefulness into my life.”

As his wait continues, he says holding onto that hope is all he can do.