Thousands of people who got scared of President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal migrants thought they will find refuge in Canada. Unfortunately for them, they now find themselves in legal limbo, still without a legal status in Canada as the government -despite the bold pronouncements that it is open to refugees and migrants turned away by Trump’s tough immigration policies- struggles with an overburdened refugee system. Now, migrants are having difficulties finding work, permanent housing, and schools that would accept their children.
Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) data provided to Reuters indicate that refugee claims are taking longer to be completed when compared to at any time in the past five years. Even worse news for the migrants and refugees is the fact that wait times are even expected to grow longer after the IRB in April focused up to half of its 127 tribunal members to tackle old cases first. As things stand, the number of delayed hearings already more than doubled from 2015 to 2016 and is pegged to increase further this year.
Claimants now struggle to convince prospective employers to hire them, or landlords to rent properties to them. Claimants also do not have access to loans or student financial aid, or opportunities to upgrade academic or professional credentials to meet Canadian standards.
Even before the influx of an estimated 3,500 people crossing the US-Canada border hoping to secure legal status in Canada following Trump’s stricter polices and tough stance on illegal migrants, Canada was already struggling to process thousands of applications. The hard reality is that U.S. neighbor simply lacks the manpower to complete security screenings for claimants and hear cases in a timely manner. There is the perennial lack of tribunal members to decide cases or interpreters to attend hearings.
For the first four months this year alone, more than 4,500 hearings, in fact, were canceled. The government is already hard pressed to attend to a serious backlog of about 24,000 claimants, including people who filed claims in 2012 or earlier. This will impact on the 15,000 people who have filed claims this year, including the new arrivals from the U.S. as they would have to wait even much longer just to have their cases heard.
Asylum cases are taking an average of 5.6 months to finalize, longer than the 3.6 months average in 2013. This poses a huge challenge to claimants because while those seeking asylum are eligible for work permits while waiting for their hearings, often employers are reluctant to hire workers with temporary social insurance numbers, and whose future is uncertain.
Canada will likely have the highest number of refugee claims this year. Sadly, the reality is that the stresses on the Canadian system despite lofty promises from its leaders mirror those of other countries with an “open door policy.” Already in Sweden, increasing financial strains involved resettlement is a contributing factor to moves to introduce tough asylum laws.