New Immigration Portal Is “Unfair” To Applicants, Say Lawyers

The Portal Will Open 90,000 Spots for Permanent Residence This Thursday

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced that it will launch a new portal allowing some immigrants to apply for permanent residence on Thursday May 6. However, the planned rollout of the portal has earned criticism from immigration lawyers, who have called it “unfair.”

The portal was announced by IRCC on April 14. They say it will offer 90,000 permanent residence spots to healthcare workers, essential workers, and post-secondary students. The streams will remain open until November 6, 2021, or until the program caps are reached. An application guide was released on May 5 specifying eligibility requirements.

Applicants must apply themselves through an online portal – a decision that immigration lawyers say will lead to many problems. Specifically, they fear that the do-it-yourself nature of the application will leave room for applicants to make small mistakes that will get their application rejected. This can cause tremendous, unnecessary stress for applicants, who may already be struggling to maintain a living in Canada during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Upon signing up through the online portal, applicants will receive a document checklist identifying the required supporting documents. Applicants for all streams are required, for instance, to prove that they have valid status and are living in Canada when submitting the application, by submitting work or study permits. Applicants are also required to submit proof of employment by including a work permit, a letter from an employer, and their most recent pay stubs.

Other supporting documents include valid language tests, police certificates, and valid identity documents. Applicants are also required to submit a copy of their Immigration Medical Exam or proof that an exam is scheduled. Additionally, applicants will need to complete all the required forms. The eligibility requirements and types of supporting documents required will depend on the stream available to applicants.

Arghavan Gerami, founder and senior counsel of Gerami Law PC, says that the format of this program overlooks the value that an immigration lawyer or similar representative can provide.

“Essentially, what it does is it marginalizes the role of representative and, in turn, it’s breaching the rights of individuals to be represented by counsel in important legal processes that have significant long-term implications,” she says. “The government should not be setting up applications in a way that encourages applicants to proceed without legal representation. It’s procedurally unfair. And it can also amount to a breach of fundamental justice.”

The effects of how this program is organized can therefore result in the de facto exclusion of otherwise eligible applicants, a form of bureaucratic disentitlement.

Another critic of the portal is Barbara Jo Caruso, a certified immigration and citizenship law specialist who founded Corporate Immigration Law Firm. Caruso says that the first-come-first-serve format of the portal will leave out people who are busy working at the time of launch.

“A doctor, who is on this list of essential services, is supposed to take time off work in the middle of a pandemic, on a Thursday, to sit at their computer and do this,” she says. “Or a truck driver, who is delivering vaccines from one point to another point in the country is supposed to pull over at a McDonald’s and log into public Wi Fi and try to do this.”

Caruso says that a better system would have allowed people to register an interest first, and then give users a period of time to submit documentation – otherwise, the current system rushes applicants, encouraging mistakes.

Applicants who are rushed may struggle interpreting the different eligibility requirements for each stream, accurately completing the numerous forms with the necessary details, and obtaining required supporting documents. These are all matters that immigration lawyers generally support clients with.

In 2019, the federal government opened a similar portal giving spots to applicants to reunite with their families. All spots filled up in ten minutes. There is a likelihood that the same will happen in this case.

The manner in which the application process is designed in this instance risks creating inefficiency, as some applicants who turn out not to be eligible will rush to apply, taking spots from others who would have met the eligibility requirements. Immigration lawyers working with clients ensure that such inefficiencies do not occur, and therefore, end up cutting down on administrative costs and time. They also help manage expectations with clients by explaining the details of the available programs and pointing them towards the best, most relevant, and available options to pursue permanent residency in Canada.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino hopes for Canada to accept 401,000 immigrants in 2021.