Firm Founder Raj Sharma -Appearance before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration -Opening Statement

It was a pleasure appearing before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration today (Friday, November 6, 2020) regarding its study of the impact of COVID-19 on the immigration system. 

My opening statement follows the video embed:

Thank you Madam Chair; committee members. It’s my pleasure to appear before this Committee again and speak to you today regarding the impact of COVID-19 on our immigration system.

COVID-19 was an unprecedented disruption to our immigration system. This was something completely new, completely unexpected and it impacted almost every line of business at IRCC.

IRCC was caught flat footed -as were we all.

Hundreds if not thousands of immigration and visa officers had to stop working or start working remotely. Visitor visa applications, biometrics, medical examinations. All essentially eliminated for weeks and months. Visa application centres were shut down. Families have been separated -whether by borders or travel logistics or other conditions in other countries.

Citizenship ceremonies and landing for PRs were put off. Language schools and other DLI’s are on tenterhooks. Thousands of International Students are still trying to navigate this new landscape.

There are significant delays in processing submitted applications, including those submitted electronically for individuals within Canada. They are in limbo and as one example of impact, this is affecting their eligibility for health coverage even though they have what’s called implied status in Canada.

There was, and continues to be massive uncertainty as immigration policy is being made almost daily via website.

There are promising signs on the horizon however.

COVID has led to changes in the way we hear cases. The IRB is Canada’s largest administrative tribunal and has a tradition of innovation and evolution. At the beginning of this pandemic eligibility determinations, refugee hearings and appeals were cancelled and delayed. This included sponsorship appeals -adding to the grief and anxiety of those affected by the pandemic.

However, hearings have resumed with health and safety protocols at the RPD and most appeals at the IAD will be done remotely. All Divisions of the IRB will need continued support. Eliminating in-person attendance could lead to a cascade of savings and increase access to justice..

COVID has demonstrated the importance of front-line workers. During this pandemic we continued to exploit and put migrant agricultural workers and new immigrants in harms way. PoC and new immigrants are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 -because they are also disproportionately on the front line as health care workers and essential workers (transit, meat and agricultural processing). These workers are not disposable.

There should be greater employment mobility and a clear pathway to Permanent Residency for all essential and front-line workers, irrespective of whether they are in a so called low skill job. This change can be made easily through expanding the Express Entry system.

COVID-19 taught us the importance of family reunification. The family class for parents and grandparents was slated to open in  for April, it was delayed. We were looking forward to the newest iteration of the program. It was, unfortunately, a little disappointing. It is a simple lottery draw. One simple change could improve the program.

Last month I was on a CBC call-in show and Frasier, a big-game hunter from Lac La Biche called in. He wasn’t affected by the program but called in to tell us that if you’re unsuccessful for a hunting license in a given year you could build priority points so that when you try again, you have a higher chance of being picked. This is someone who just listened in for 5 or 10 minutes, but was able to identify a solution -the weighted draw. A weighted draw should merit serious consideration for the next iteration of the parents/grandparents family class.

Further, if we do want increased numbers, then we should consider increasing the age limit of accompanying dependents, which at present, is set at 22.

Crises not only reveal existing shortcomings but they can be opportunities as well -to accelerate change already in progress. IRCC has made great strides with electronic applications and this should continue.  ‘Wet signatures’ and paper applications should not be required in 2020 and beyond.

Hopefully, there will be a silver lining to the pandemic that has wreaked so much devastation around the world -in the form of further common sense and logical enhancements to immigration processing.

Thank you for this work -I think there is great value in continued consultations with stakeholders -we can work together to increase value and decrease cost and identify and resolve inefficiencies.

Thank you I look forward to answering any questions you may have.