Thousands of immigrants have pressed Canada's government to fast-track their permanent residency applications, saying undue delays have put their lives on hold for years.
They came to Canada from France, Italy, Morocco and elsewhere, paid thousands of dollars in fees and filled out lengthy forms. Now, more than two years on, their files have still not been processed, leaving many unable to work legally, without health insurance and with no other option than to leave Canada.
An opposition lawmaker from the New Democratic Party, Jinny Sims, blamed the backlog on severe cuts at the immigration ministry announced last year.
"This Conservative [government] boondoggle transformed the Canadian dream for thousands of people into a total nightmare," she said, adding that the migrants' files were "callously forgotten - with lives put on hold and turned upside down."
Michelle Dorion, spokeswoman for the largest single group of 10,000 migrants known as the "Buffalo Forgotten", after the New York consulate where they applied for residency, said as many as half of them may have already left Canada.
One woman, whose temporary work permit expired, was forced to turn down an engineering job in Montreal to return to Casablanca to live with her parents at age 35. Dorion said many others had suffered anxieties and broken relationships.
The government, she said, told her that about 15 per cent of the Buffalo files had been processed since last May. It has promised to process the rest by September.