Canada: Northerners’ hopes of sponsoring family members dashed

Rami Kassem, Mona Aida, their children and her parents in Yellowknife. Kassem says they’ve been trying to sponsor Aida’s parents to come to the Northwest Territories for seven years. (Submitted by Rami Kassem)
Younes Oudghough says he went on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada website an hour before applications opened Monday in the hopes of sponsoring his mother to come to the Northwest Territories, in Canada’s central Arctic.

But when the time came, Oudghough, who was visiting family in Italy at the time, wasn’t able to open an application form.

“I was refreshing, refreshing, refreshing and nothing happened.”

When he got the page to open 15 minutes later, it said the available application forms had been filled.

Oudghough was among the many Canadians hoping to bring family members North who had their hopes dashed this week. On Monday morning at 10 a.m. MT, the federal department opened its online form for indicating interest in sponsoring a family member through the 2019 Parent and Grandparent Program.

Within minutes, the 27,000 application spots available were full.

“The look that I’ve seen on my mother’s face, it just tore me apart. It was really hard looking at her trying to not show her disappointment or sadness about not being able to come and be beside us,” Oudghough said.

Oudghough, who first came to Canada as an international student in Montreal in 2007 and is now a Canadian citizen, applied to sponsor his mother twice last year but his file wasn’t picked up.

The 27,000 available application spots were filled within a matter of minutes on Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s website Monday morning. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)
‘We were shocked’

This was Marianne Bismar’s first attempt at filling out an application to sponsor her mother from the Philippines. She says she was surprised that the forms filled up so quickly.

“I don’t have my dad so I want my mom to be with me,” she explained, noting she began working abroad when she was 20. “I think it’s time for me now to take care of her.”

Bismar has lived in Yellowknife for six years and says she hasn’t been back to the Philippines for the past two years, although she’s planning to visit sometime this year. She said next year, she’ll try to submit the online sponsorship application form faster.

Northerners were among the thousands of Canadians who were disappointed Monday when they were unable to submit an application to sponsor a family member. (canada.ca)

Rami Kassem says he and his wife Mona Aida have been trying to sponsor her parents to come to Yellowknife for seven years. This time, he said they completed an application in just six minutes when the website alerted them it was no longer accepting forms.

“We were shocked.”

People are unhappy with the system, he said, and it puts people who aren’t computer savvy at a disadvantage.

“You have to have skills and you have to have good luck.”

Kassem said his in-laws have helped raise his children as he and his wife both work and Aida’s parents have traveled back and forth between Yellowknife and Lebanon over the past five years.

The couple are currently in the North on a super-visa, which allows parents or grandparents of Canadian citizens or permanent residents to stay in the country for two years. But Kassem says when that visa expires in June, his in-laws will have to go back to Lebanon and then he and his wife will have to start the application process all over again.

“It’s just non-stop,” he said.

“We are Canadian, our kids are Canadian and they have a right to see their grandparents.”

A Northern solution

Kassem says he’d like to see changes to the federal process including preference for applicants who have lived in Canada longer as well as a Northern focused solution that would encourage people to live and stay here with their families.

Michael McLeod, MP for the Northwest Territories, says he’s aware of the high demand to sponsor family members.

The Liberal government inherited a backlog of over 167,000 cases when it was elected into office in 2015, he said, and that number keeps growing.

McLeod noted the government has made changes to the process over the years, quadrupling the number of applications it accepts and adopting a first-come first-served online system.

Liberal MP for Northwest Territories Michael McLeod, during a press conference in Ottawa, on October 3rd, 2016. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

He also said he’s also pushing for special considerations for the North, given its vast geography and small population.

“I haven’t gotten any traction on that yet, the department hasn’t agreed to it, they’ve heard my concerns and I’ll continue to push that.”

Related stories from around the North:

Finland: Foreign residents acquiring Finnish citizenship in record numbers, Yle News

Norway: Immigration curbs population decline in Norway’s northernmost county, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russian border guards detain more migrants seeking Arctic route, The Independent Barents Observer

Emily Blake, CBC News

Emily Blake, CBC News

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