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Quebec spousal sponsorship applicants describe system as broken and discriminatory

Click to play video: 'Montrealers protest spousal sponsorship delays' Montrealers protest spousal sponsorship delays
WATCH: Quebec spousal sponsorship applicants have been protesting outside the immigration office in Montreal for the past six days. Caught in the lengthy process, they're calling on the federal and provincial governments to speed up the system and prioritize the reunification of families. Global’s Olivia O'Malley met with applicants who say the system is broken and discriminatory – Nov 6, 2020

Canadian Hajirah Farooq has been raising her three-year-old daughter alone in Montreal while her husband lives in Pakistan. The couple has been married seven years, the same amount of time they’ve been waiting for their family sponsorship application to be approved.

“The system is corrupt. There’s a lot of discrimination that goes on,” said Farooq.

The couple filed their first application in 2014. This is when Farooq claims they were interrogated by officers in an immigration interview and had to prove their wedding was genuine.

“(The immigration) officer goes to me, because culturally it’s not possible that a single Pakistani man would agree to marry a divorcee without an ulterior motive,” said Farooq, who was previously divorced.

Read more: Flawed system — Canada’s family reunification program comes under fire

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Their case was refused and they appealed it to no avail. They applied again in 2017 and two years later her husband was granted pre-arrival.

Now he’s been waiting almost a year for his passport, to finalize the process.

“It’s not fair to my daughter, it’s not fair to us and we’re struggling.”

The backlog for spousal immigration sponsorship includes thousands of families. Spouses across the country are exhausted by long delays they say predate the pandemic.

Read more: Spousal sponsorship applicants protest for the reunification of families in Quebec

Lauren Degilio and her Cuban husband have been waiting for over two years. She said the government predicts it can take 12 months but it’s never that quick.

“It’s really random. Everything within the system is random: The agents that you get, what mood they’re in, how educated they are, how big they are or not, I’m sorry to say, but that’s true.”

She’s one of the protesters who have been outside the Montreal immigration office for the past six days. They are asking the federal government to grant temporary visas to spouses.

Degilio said these visas are often refused by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada agents using paragraph 179(b) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations. It stipulates that a visa can be refused if the processing agent is doubtful that the visitor will return to his or her home country within the timeline of the visa — something Degilio wants to see modified.

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“It’s really not applicable, because if you have the intention to remain in this committed relationship, you’re not going to forfeit that and stay in the country,” said Degilio.

In a statement to Global News, Office of the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship press secretary Alexander Cohen said there are new measures in place to reduce wait times for family reunification.

“We recognize many families are still navigating through the immigration system and that’s why we introduced new measures to reduce wait times,” Cohen wrote. “These efforts will help process roughly 6,000 spousal applications a month.”

But after years of waiting, Degilio and Farroq wonder when it will be their turn. Until they are reunited as a family again, they vow to keep fighting.

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