Nawaf Bahadur has lived in limbo for 151 days, waiting for an update, any update, from the federal government about his work permit application.
His mind is filled with questions: Will he be forced to turn down a dream job with Ubisoft — a top international video game company — that’s set to start Aug. 31?
Will he have no option but to return to Saudi Arabia after building a full life for himself in Toronto?
Why is his application, which ticks all the boxes for a work permit, taking so long to process?
Like thousands of other people in Canada, Bahadur is stuck in an immigration system that critics say is experiencing its worst delays in at least a decade as public servants adjust to working amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“At this point I’m worried I will have to pack up and leave,” Bahadur, 25, told HuffPost Canada. “There’s nothing else I can do.”
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In March, distracted by work, and stressed about how the COVID-19 crisis was impacting his family back in Saudi Arabia, Bahadur missed the deadline to renew his work permit by one day.
It’s a mistake that happens all the time, and normally, the permit is issued within 90 days, not half a year and counting, said Bahadur’s immigration lawyer Cassandra Fultz, who has requested IRCC expedite his application with no success.
“This is urgent, this person needs this permit and is trying desperately to follow the rules,” Fultz said. “Just open the package and you will see this person qualifies.”
Bahadur had to quit his job, but based on IRCC’s own online estimate in March, he was confident he would be back to work by this summer. In the meantime, he didn’t qualify for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), and did everything he could to speed up the application process.
He contacted his local MP’s office, secured a competitive job offer at Ubisoft’s Toronto office, and filed a complaint with the immigration department, but Bahadur has yet to get any updates from IRCC.
Currently, IRCC’s website says the wait for a temporary residence application could be 177 days, but warns this estimate could be inaccurate.
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Fultz said all her clients have been impacted by “crazy” delays at IRCC, which has closed offices or reduced hours and is operating with skeletal staff due to the pandemic. However, it’s not being transparent about what’s going on behind the scenes.
“For many applicants the problem is not even being acknowledged,” Fultz said. “I do believe the government can and should do more to address people’s concerns, admit what is happening and be honest.
“This is not the time to cover your butt.”
IRCC did not provide a comment for this story, or answer questions about the case backlog it’s facing.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer released a public report on the number of federal employees who took a paid leave of absence for reasons related to COVID-19, but IRCC was not included as their information was not available, the office said. Of the offices that did respond, 88,000 public servants took a leave between March 15 and July 5, costing taxpayers more than $439 million in lost work.
Some of Fultz’s clients have a single step left in their permanent residency applications, which is submitting new biometrics, including fingerprints and a photo, even though most already went through the process when they first arrived in Canada. The problem is that biometric centres remain closed, and therefore these applications are on hold indefinitely.
NDP MP and immigration critic Jenny Kwan said her Vancouver constituency office is handling an “avalanche” of cases involving people whose applications, like Bahadur’s, aren’t being processed in a timely manner — from asylum seekers whose interviews have been cancelled to a student applying for permanent residency who is waiting on biometrics.
“Nawaf’s story highlights IRCC’s inability to be flexible and it’s impacting people’s lives,” Kwan said. “I can accept at the beginning of the pandemic, they were figuring things out, but now we’re six months in and that doesn’t wash anymore as an excuse.
“Get on with it.”