N.S. woman shocked as wait time jumps from 3 months to 1 year for husband's tourist visa

Mary Dahr, left, says by the time she put in a visitor visa application for her husband, Eugenio Camaraza, the wait had jumped to 209 days, and has since risen to more than a year, at 359 days.  (Submitted by Mary Dahr - image credit)
Mary Dahr, left, says by the time she put in a visitor visa application for her husband, Eugenio Camaraza, the wait had jumped to 209 days, and has since risen to more than a year, at 359 days. (Submitted by Mary Dahr - image credit)

After applying for a tourist visa, a Nova Scotia woman is asking why she and her husband may have to wait a year for him to be approved to visit Canada.

Mary Dahr looked up the timeline for the processing of a visitor visa for her husband, who is Cuban, two months ago. At that time, the estimated wait was 90 days.

By the time Dahr went to put in an application, the wait had jumped to 209 days, and has since risen to a year, at 359 days.

It's an issue that continues to affect people across the country, as immigration applications of all kinds, including visitor visas, continue to be the subject of long delays.

After other delays caused by the pandemic, Dahr said the uncertainty is hard to take.

"It's been really hard," she said. "It's been over three years and, you know, now it looks like it could be another year to even find out whether he gets his visa or whether he's being denied."

Pandemic, visa issues delaying visit

Dahr and her husband met through an online dating service in 2019, and were married in October of that year.

When the pandemic hit, "everything was put on hold," because of restrictions on international travel, Dahr said.

Dahr herself was able to go to Cuba for a visit in the fall. But for her husband to come to Canada, he needs a visa.

Dahr said she's hired a lawyer to help with the paperwork, but it's unclear why the processing times for visas are so long and she's unsure who to ask

"You almost don't want to complain because you know, then they might deny you," she said.

'There's no excuse'

Dahr and her husband aren't alone in facing delays.

There are approximately 2.1 million applications awaiting decision by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), including close to 1.09 million that are considered "in backlog."

Betsy Kane, an immigration lawyer in Ottawa and co-founding member of the Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association (CILA), said the long processing times are a sign of a broken system.

"It's not normal to expect somebody to wait a year for a visitor visa," Kane said. "There's no excuse for that."


Nonetheless, the immigration system has faced strain in the last few years, including delays during the pandemic, and the urgent need to assist people fleeing the crisis in Afghanistan and the war in Ukraine.

Kane said while IRCC has committed to addressing the backlog, the progress is being made on applications from skilled workers. While other kinds of applications — including applications from Cuba — still face delays. Meanwhile, apart from trying to contact an overtaxed help centre or filling out a web form, there are few ways for people to reach department staff with questions.

"You're dealing with a government department that is behind a curtain and has done everything to minimize, in a sense, an ability to contact them."

Refugee sponsorship group left in limbo

For one refugee sponsorship group in Nova Scotia, the processing delays have also proved a frustration.

Nearly three years ago, Amy Schwartz started a group called Raise to sponsor a Venezuelan family — Gaby Queiros, her mother and her teenage daughter — who were living in Peru where they had fled there to escape persecution.

In 2020, Raise, working with the Anglican Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, submitted an application to bring the family to Nova Scotia, but struggled to make headway.

"We tried every single channel, we talked to everybody we could," Schwartz said. "We weren't really sure how to make it move, and we weren't getting much if any answers from Immigration Canada."

For years, that application languished, to the extent that the group wondered if it had been lost in the system.

Finally, in December, after the group had contacted Halifax MP Andy Fillmore's office and CBC Nova Scotia's Information Morning, the family received a letter summoning them to the embassy in Lima for an interview, and were approved on the spot.

"There's joy and relief, her daughter has a future now, it was a very, very emotional moment."

Lack of communication a struggle

The group is now hoping the family will arrive early in 2023 — a significant improvement from the years they'd thought they'd have to wait.

Still, Schwartz said the long delays and the lack of information given to people navigating the process has made the experience challenging.

"I don't know what finally made it move," she said. "It's really, really tough for people when they're in this kind of limbo with the Canadian immigration system."

Submitted by Gaby Queiros
Submitted by Gaby Queiros

Advocates say these issues are likely to continue, as the government aims to bring in 500,000 immigrants a year by 2025 to address labour shortages.

In a statement, the IRCC said the department is "continuing our efforts to reduce application inventories accumulated during the pandemic" The statement says the IRCC is using funding allocated in 2021 to hire up to 1,250 new staff, digitize applications and improve its technology.

To shorten wait times, Betsy Kane said CILA is also calling for immediate adjustments including establishing an emergency response team so that regular processing is not affected by emergency international events, and improving the department's systems.

As the government looks to welcome 1.5 million immigrants in the next two years, "they're going to be able to process the easy applications, but the complex applications will still, in my opinion, face significant backlog," said Kane.

"Their technological infrastructure is not robust enough to handle the demand. Their client service is not robust enough to handle the demand."

As for Mary Dahr, she's hoping the issues can be resolved soon, so that she can be reunited with her husband.

"We're just trying to live together for a little while."