Ottawa fast-tracking travel visas for AIDS conference amid sharp criticism

·2 min read
People have been lining up at Montreal passport offices as acquiring new or renewed passports has been significantly delayed this year. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press - image credit)
People have been lining up at Montreal passport offices as acquiring new or renewed passports has been significantly delayed this year. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The federal government says it is now prioritizing temporary travel visas for people seeking to attend the International AIDS Conference in Montreal at the end of July.

The move comes as the head of the African Alliance health rights organization slams Canada for bidding to host the conference and spending millions of dollars on it without making sure all attendees would be given a visa to attend.

Founder Tian Johnson says it is "truly vile" that thousands of people from the Global South are still waiting to find out if they'll get a visa, leaving the conference to be only "white, privileged and academic."

The African Alliance is one of 250 Canadian and international humanitarian groups that signed a letter to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser in June asking him to intervene.

The letter warns there is a real risk the voices of people living in countries most affected by AIDS will be missing from the conversation.

A spokesman for Fraser says visa offices have now been sent lists of conference invitees and are being told to prioritize their temporary travel visa applications.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has been working closely with the organizers of the conference to ensure immigration and entry requirements are understood so processing and admission for participants can go smoothly, said IRCC spokesperson Nancy Caron in a statement.

For delegates attending the conference, the "IRCC has taken every measure available to expedite the applications as quickly as possible and facilitate travel for this event," she said.

Processing times can be affected by the speed at which applicants respond to IRCC requests for more information, how easily that information can be verified and the complexity of an application, Caron said.

The capacity and resources at visa application centres and visa offices play a role in processing time as well, she added.

"IRCC is currently experiencing longer than usual processing times for visitor visa applications," said Caron.

"All visa-required event participants are encouraged to apply as early as possible. Waiting too long to apply may result in an application not being approved on time."

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