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Canada rejected humanitarian bids to stay in the country at a much higher level during the pandemic. Critics want to know why


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Canada rejected humanitarian bids to stay in the country at a much higher level during the pandemic. Critics want to know why

Despite the processing of immigration applications being scaled back during the pandemic, Canada dramatically increased the number of bids it rejected from those seeking to stay in this country on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Unlike other immigration programs, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada actually finalized more applications under the so-called H&C category in the last year than in 2019.

In 2020, officials processed 8,735 H&C applications, 900 more than the year before COVID-19 was declared a global health crisis, prompting border closures and travel restrictions, and stalling immigration operations.

However, last year’s refusal rate reached a five-year high of 57 per cent, up from 35 per cent in 2019. In the first quarter of 2021, 70 per cent of the H&C applications were refused.

In general, prospective migrants must apply for permanent residence from outside Canada but those already inside the country and out of status as overstayed visitors and workers or failed refugees can ask for special permission to acquire permanent status if they can provide proof of establishment in Canada or undue hardship upon removal from the country.

“With these historic rejection rates, the federal government is condemning those migrants already here, and working in the most precarious situations to further insecurity and deportation,” Syed Hussan of the Migrant Rights Network told a news conference Tuesday.

“By doubling rejections, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is doubling the potential for exploitation.”

With the myriad programs to bring in temporary residents such as international students and migrant workers, Hussan said migrants can easily fall through the cracks and become undocumented and the H&C is the only way for them to access permanent status in Canada.

During the pandemic, the immigration department has focused on transitioning temporary residents in Canada into permanent residents. In May, it opened new immigration pathways to 90,000 international graduates and essential workers, but undocumented migrants were ineligible.

“We need comprehensive not piecemeal change, that is to ensure full and permanent immigration status for all migrants, including undocumented people in the country,” said Hussan, who estimated there are half a million of non-status migrants in Canada.

“To avoid facing the same crisis in the future, ensure that all residents that arrive in the future do so with permanent resident status.”

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Hussan said it’s not known what has led to the skyrocketing refusals against H&C applicants because there have been no policy changes as to how these applications are processed.

“The Liberal government must provide answers to why there is such a significant jump in H&C refusals and take immediate action to rectify this,” said NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan, who obtained the data.

Applicants from the Philippines and India were the most overrepresented groups under the humanitarian program, with refusal rates hovering at 72 per cent and 75 per cent respectively.

“It’s long past time that Canada returns to an immigration system that honours the contributions of all workers with a full range of diverse skills and occupations with landed status on arrival,” Kwan said. “A regularized immigration stream for migrant workers is the only way to ensure workers’ rights are respected.”

Queen Gabriel was among those whose humanitarian application was refused last year. The 39-year-old Trinidadian woman arrived in Canada on a visitor visa in 2013 and has worked as a personal support worker even though she is without status in Canada.

She said precarious immigration status puts migrants like her at risk to exploitation at work places. She said she was made to work 400 hours a month for more than two years and the employer refused to pay overtime and vacation. She couldn’t even travel for her father’s funeral or bury her brother, who died last year.

Ottawa introduced a time-limited “Guardian Angel” immigration program in December to eligible asylum seekers who work in Canadian health care. However, Gabriel did not qualify because she’s never made an asylum claim here.

Three years ago, she needed to be admitted to a hospital emergency department for a gynecological surgery and the medical bill was more than $8,000. She still owes the doctor $5,000.

“There’s no living without status in Canada. There’s only existing dead end jobs for survival,” she told the Tuesday news conference. “Landed status to all is necessary, especially when the immigration process is slowly choking the life out of us.”

The Migrant Rights Network is calling on the federal government to implement a “regularization” program to grant permanent status to all temporary residents currently in Canada.

“It is not a gift or a privilege,” Hussan said. “It is the only existing mechanism for migrants to access the same rights as other residents of the country.”

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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