The Hongcouver
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Chinese elders’ immigration applications bog down in Hong Kong, and families in Canada wonder why

Sponsored parents and grandparents wait an average of more than six years for the processing of immigration applications, triple the time for spouses and children

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 March, 2017, 1:07am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 March, 2017, 12:58pm

The sad reality of Canada’s heavily burdened immigration system is that those facing the longest wait for the processing of their applications are often those with the least time to spare.

And despite attempts to reform a system facing big backlogs and heavy demand, elderly parents and grandparents applying to join relatives in Canada under the family reunion scheme face worse delays than ever, with average processing times stretching to more than six years.

Now, a group of Chinese Canadian sponsors say they face a new obstacle: unexplained delays in their elders’ applications that have been transferred to Hong Kong for processing.

The sponsors say the delays are so bad that 12-month medical clearances requested of elderly applicants are at risk of expiring. Many live in rural China, and face long and costly journeys to major cities to retake the tests.

“In some locations it’s not like you can just go down the street to get your tests done,” said Vancouver East MP Jenny Kwan, who has taken up their cause, and is calling for the validity of the original tests to be extended, or for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) not to request medical clearances until the end of the vetting process.

I want my parents to be with me because they are getting older now and I want to take care of them
Shirley Li

“People are delayed in such a way that they are feeling hopeless that they will be reunited with their family members,” said Kwan. “People are desperate…for some, they want the chance to see their grandchildren for the first time, to be with them. But …it feels like after the application goes in that it will never see daylight, and that is very draining.”

Shirley Li, 42, is a Chinese immigrant hoping to bring her elderly parents from rural Guizhou province to join her in Canada.

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She is part of a WeChat group with 163 members, who say their sponsored parents’ and grandparents’ cases were transferred from Canada to Hong Kong for processing, then hit with delays.

Li said her parents were asked to submit medical exams, which were conducted last June 22. But she still had had no confirmation that her parents’ applications have been approved. By contrast, applications lodged on behalf of her husband’s parents were processed in Ottawa: their medical clearances were requested in October, their visas approved in December, and they have already arrived in Canada.

Li worries her parents’ medical clearances will soon expire. “It’s very stressful,” she said from her Toronto home.

“My parents live in a rural area. They will have to travel to Shanghai to do the medical exams again. It’s a long journey and it costs a lot of money,” said Li, about RMB2,000 (US$290) each to re-do the tests, and a total of RMB7,000 or 8,000 including travel costs.

“I want my parents to be with me because they are getting older now and I want to take care of them.”

Li said the WeChat group was convinced the delays were related to the unexplained transfer of their relatives’ cases to Hong Kong. Some in the group have been waiting longer than six years from the initial application, said Li. Kwan said she had been told of cases more than 10 years old.

The WeChat group has created an online petition that calls on the immigration section at the Canadian consulate in Hong Kong to speed up the process so medical clearances do not expire.

“Most of us were born under [the] one child policy, we are eager to reunite with our parents,” the petition says, adding that “our parents cannot afford such a time and energy consuming process”, if required to retake the tests.

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Anita Wu of Calgary, one of 143 signatories, commented on the petition: “My parents need to travel two days to get the medical examination done. These examinations costs about [a] half year’s pension income. It is totally not acceptable if [the] Hong Kong office cannot process their application before their medical examination expires.”

The IRCC did not immediately answer the SCMP’s questions about the apparent delays.

Elders get no Canadian immigration ‘service standard’

Although parents and grandparents fall under the broader family class of immigration, their applications are treated differently from those of spouses, conjugal partners and dependent children. The latter are all subject to an IRCC “service standard” goal of 12 months for processing, but parents and grandparents are subject to no service standard at all.

Consequently, they face by far the longest waits for processing: an average of 75 months for applications processed by the end of 2015, or more than triple the wait-times for partners and children, according to IRCC data submitted to the Canadian Parliament’s immigration standing committee.

And time is of the essence for many applicants; about 10 per cent of the 15,489 parent/grandparent applicants processed in 2015 were 75 or older, and 59 per cent were 60 or older.

Forcing families to redo medical examinations or other checks because their validity expires sooner than applications can be processed is unfair
Canadian MP Jenny Kwan

A report to parliament by the committee this month showed that while processing times for spouses and children have dropped or stabilised in recent years, parents and grandparents faced steadily increasing delays. The average 75-month wait in 2015 consisted of 61 months for sponsor vetting and 14 months of assessment of the permanent-residency applicant elders: if 12-month medical clearances were requested at the start of PR vetting, they could expire before visa approval is granted.

Medical reports should only be requested near the end of the vetting process, Kwan said, in a letter to immigration minister Ahmed Hussen last week.

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“Forcing families to redo medical examinations or other checks because their validity expires sooner than applications can be processed is unfair,” she wrote.

In an interview, Kwan, the immigration critic for the opposition New Democrats, said a current 10,000-person cap on annual applications by parents and grandparents should also be lifted as a matter of compassion. “If we value families like we say we do…then we should lift that cap.”

But without extra processing resources, that runs the risk of boosting a backlog of applications and increasing delays. Although wait times have increased, at the same time IRCC has been working through a big inventory of cases. Among parents or grandparents, that inventory has been steadily declining, from a peak of 167,007 in 2011, to 50,661 at the end of 2015; IRCC’s goal was to have reduced that to 46,000 by the end of 2016, the immigration committee heard.

It was the existence of the huge backlog in previous years that helped lengthen some processing times up to eight years, according to the committee. Applications by parents and grandparents were frozen in 2011 to deal with the backlog, then re-opened in 2014 with an annual cap of 5,000 new applications; that was later increased to 10,000. But huge demand meant the caps were hit “in a matter of hours” of the application period opening.

Nevertheless, IRCC told the committee it expects to halve average processing times for parents and grandparents to 35 months by the end of 2017.

Faster processing can’t happen soon enough for Li, who says her 12-year-old daughter and four-year-old son deserve to get to know their grandparents better.

“It’s unfair for my parents to have to redo the tests because they [IRCC] haven’t processed the application [in time]. If they cannot process the application yet, they shouldn’t have asked my parents for the medical tests.”

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The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email [email protected] or on Twitter, @ianjamesyoung70 .