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John McCallum aims to rectify long delays in the processing of refugees and other immigration streams plaguing his department.
Debra Black

John McCallum, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship is acutely aware of the problems private sponsors face in bringing in refugees from countries other than Syria. He sat down with the Star earlier this year to discuss his mandate and what he plans to do about some of the lengthy processing delays and what impact the Syrian refugee program has had on other streams. Here is an edited version of that conversation.

With all the focus on Syrian refugees, what is happening with others? Has that other stream been affected?

I’m concerned about that, too. I asked the department and I initially didn’t fully accept their answer. Then, after a lot of explanation, I did. Basically it hasn’t affected the other refugees. There have been resources diverted to help the Syrian refugees, but those resources have not been diverted from refugees from other countries. So the Syrian refugees are in addition and the others are proceeding as planned. That’s not to say the plan is great. We have a whole host of issues and challenges in the immigration department on processing time, waiting times for just about everything under the sun. So I’m not saying the refugees from other countries are coming in quickly enough or are doing as well as one might want. I am saying they have not been adversely affected by the Syrian influx. It was slow before and it’s slow now, but it’s not slower . . . as a result of Syrian refugees.

There have been a lot of complaints about the length of time to process an application for refugees, as well as applications for everything from citizenship to family reunification.

That was probably our core commitment in the election — that processing times have gone up like crazy over the past 10 years. And we’re committed to bring them down. If there was one promise that we made that was central, I would say it was dealing with processing times, and that is principally family members, parents, grandparents, spouses, dependent children; also refugees, also caregivers, also citizenship applicants. All of those groups have seen substantial increases in their processing times over the last decade, in many cases doubling or worse. So we have inherited a situation. The time they have to wait has doubled or worse across the board . . . And economic immigrant processing times have gone down. Everything else has gone up over the last decade.

Do you have a plan to deal with eliminating processing times of all kinds, including for refugees?

We’re working on it. I’ve been, as you can imagine, a bit busy on Syrian refugees. In principle there are three ways to get the time down. One, throw more money at it. And we have. We’ve committed in the election platform for $50 million per year for additional funding to hire more civil servants to interview and deal with family class applicants in order to allow more to come in . . . A second thing you can do is reallocate resources. If you have a given amount of money you can have more people doing economic (immigrants) and less people doing family, as the Conservatives did. Or we can do the reverse. We could have more people doing family and fewer doing economic. Everything has a cost. … The third thing you can do is speed up the processing procedures — all the processes the department goes through to vet the spouses, the caregivers and citizens (and refugees). Are all of those necessary? Could we save time and money by streamlining in some way those processes? I’ll tell you one thing, we certainly saw the answer was ‘yes’ in the case of Syrian refugees. We don’t have the resources to do that kind of operation for everything, but once we got those people established, once the wave rose, the medical processing was done 10 times faster than before, when the military got in there to help. There was just a machine that went through everything really fast. So the processing, which normally takes months or years, could be done in days. The quality didn’t suffer. The same medical tests were done as before; the same security processes which were vouched for by CSIS, the RCMP and border services; the heads of all of those said … it was a good process. But there’s an example of, admittedly, in an emergency situation, what can be done to speed up the normal process.

http://www.thestar.com/news/immigration/2016/02/29/cutting-lengthy-wait-times-a-priority-for-immigration-minister.html

Debra Black

Debra Black is a senior reporter at the Toronto Star who covers immigration and diversity issues. Reach her at 416-869-4850.