Timea Pintilie, a Hungarian citizen, submitted her application for Canadian permanent residence (PR) along with her husband, Alejandro Canseco, a Mexican citizen, on March 30, 2020. They assumed their Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) would not be issued until travel restrictions were lifted.
“(We thought) it would be illogical to issue COPR during restricted travel because the COPR has a short expiry date. Four months in our case,” said Pintilie.
But they were issued their COPR eight months later, in November. Unable to enter the country due to pandemic travel restrictions that began on March 18, 2020, their COPR eventually expired.
According to Canadian government data, 23,000 individuals like Pintilie and Canseco were left in similar positions, holding COPRs with a looming expiry date.
On June 21, 2021, the government announced that valid COPR holders can once again enter Canada, but the news came too late for all those whose COPRs expired during their holdup in limbo. They now play a waiting game, with their lives packed away and put on hold, ready to start anew in Canada, but stuck in their home country.
Approved permanent residents receive a COPR after they have passed the initial Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) health, security and criminality checks, and meet the program’s criteria. However, official permanent residence is not granted until the individual physically enters Canada before the COPR expires. Under normal circumstances, if the applicant doesn’t enter Canada before then, they must reapply for PR.
In an effort to provide accommodation due to the pandemic, the government has said those who were approved after March 18, 2020 will be contacted to have their COPR reissued. The IRCC says applicants will be notified with further instructions on their reissuing process, which may include updating documents such as the applicant’s passport and immigration medical examination.
An expert on immigration policy, Andrew Griffith, is not entirely surprised. Griffith is a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and the Environics Institute and former director general of Citizenship and Multiculturalism in the federal government, now IRCC. He said transparency has always been an issue with the IRCC, and that for people applying, “clarity and predictability of decision making” from the government is more important than the processing time.
Griffith said modernizing IRCC’s process has been a long-standing issue.
A COPR is not an exemption to the travel restrictions in Canada. Some COPR holders met other conditions which allowed them to enter Canada — like reuniting with family or being residents of the U.S. Unfortunately, like many others, Pintilea and Canseco did not meet any of these travel exemptions.
With no guidance on how to navigate their circumstance, the two prepared to move, anticipating the government would provide new travel exemptions for valid COPR holders.
The couple resigned their jobs, sold their assets and were ready to travel before their COPR expired on February 1, 2021.
“We were aware of the restrictions but also scared that if (Canada opened their border) and we are not ready to land…we are missing out on the life we have been planning for two years,” says Pintilea.
Leaving their home of six years in the United Arab Emirates, the two moved to Mexico in April 2021 to be closer to Canada’s border and ready to move the moment the country opened up.
In the past year, Pintilie has realized she is one of many stuck playing a “waiting game.” Online, she has joined many support groups because the experience has been “mentally unbearable,” she says.
“There (are) people who took their kids out of school and are stuck ever since. Kids are not going to school, they sold their houses, and they are stuck living in an Airbnb.”
Others have risked attempting to land in Canada despite the travel restrictions.
According to the online chat discussions, some have attempted travelling to the U.S. first and then crossing the border to Canada.
Christine Normandin, a Member of Parliament, proposed in a letter to Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, that all those whose COPRs were issued after March 18, 2020, be exempt from Canada’s travel restrictions and that the validity of their COPRs be extended by 12 months from their expiry date.
But there are some concerns and issues that come with such a blanket exemption.
In a statement to NCM, an IRCC spokesperson said, “In some cases, applicants whose situation has changed over the past year, such as having new dependents, will need to provide further information or documents…before we can reissue their documents. For this reason, a broad extension for expired COPR would not be feasible.”
If the government asks them to update or reissue some of their documents, Pintilie says she and Canseco are ready, but she worries about how long all of this will take.
“We’re willing to do that, (but) then what? What is the wait time? What year will they (reissue) the COPR?”
In hindsight, Pintilie wishes she hadn’t left her job. The two have spent around $6,000 and are still wondering how much more they will spend waiting for their COPR to be reissued.
“I’m not saying I couldn’t have started to look for another job. But I’m sitting and waiting, because month after month, we are being told by IRCC, ‘Soon we will give you (an) answer.’ And all this soon has turned into how many months?” says Pintilea.
Like Pintilie and Canseco, many remain just one step away from being Canadian permanent residents yet stuck on stand-by because of a process that is out of their hands.
“The difficult part is the not knowing and being told…we will be contacted (and)… ‘Please check your profile…your emails,’” she says. “Well, that is all I do. Every day, I wake up, and every day, it’s nothing.”
Reedah Hayder, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Canadian Media