More than 250,000 new temporary residents land in Canada yearly as international students, skilled workers, and refugees. Many come with the goal of starting a new life or for employment opportunities, among others reasons. From the outside, Canada appears to be an ideal option.
Rahul (name changed for anonymity) is currently waiting for his permanent residency approval, which allow him to move from temporary to permanent residency. As a permanent resident, he would enjoy many of the same benefits that Canadian citizens have, including free healthcare, reduced tuition fees, and legal rights.
Rahul explains that Canada was his first option as the process did not seem complex, believing he would be able to receive his permanent residency status within three to four months. After migrating almost five years ago, his perspective about this process has completely shifted based on the slow speed of the operation: “I know people who applied almost a year ago: their profiles are still in processing.”
This has not only changed his expectations about the process itself, but it has made him question the very feasibility of the “Canadian dream”. On his own experience, he says that “it’s been 3-and-a-half years and I’m still waiting. It’s so frustrating.”
Currently, there are over 100 different ways to apply for permanent residency. Each program requires an applicant to show various documents demonstrating their suitability for residency, including language test scores, economic solvency, employment status, employment offer letters, tax records, income estimates, and relationship status. In addition, each applicant is required to pay application processing fees, medical test fees, and additional fees depending on the program.
Rahul describes this process of collecting documents and applying to the programs as “a waiting game and roller coaster of emotions.” In addition, the process has forced him to put his life on hold: “I actually had to postpone my marriage because of the long wait.”
Recently, the government of Canada launched a new immigration pathway called TR to PR residency pathway, opening the door to 90,000 temporary status holders to apply for permanent status. While initially promising, Rahul explains that this pathway comes with an emotional cost. Applicants are not able to leave the country while waiting for a response, due to the risk of losing their spot if they are not present once a decision regarding their application is made. In addition, applicants still face day-to-day economic challenges, which further exacerbate feelings of stress and frustration:
“It adds extra fuel to the frustration. For instance, most of my friends and I stayed up overnight filling forms and collecting documents, so we could apply once the program opened on May 6th. We spent lots of money to get everything done and all the documents ready to apply, but we are not getting any response.”
Rahul reflects on the need to optimize application processing:
“To make this process easier, there should be clear criteria of how long this will take. Hiring more staff to process applications and hiring staff to support temporary residents through this stressful process can significantly make a difference to individuals who are waiting for the unknown.”
To date, there is a lack of mental health resources for applicants to help them deal with feelings of frustration, as well as the high levels of stress that comes with the immigration process. Not to mention that temporary residents were one of the most vulnerable sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many are often frontline workers.
Applicants are left to learn how to cope on their own while waiting for a response. Temporary residents must often apply to extend their temporary status on multiple occasions before obtaining their permanent residency, prolonging feelings of hopelessness and disappointment, which may worsen over time:
“I don’t know of any mental health resources. You have to keep calm, knowing it may be a couple of months or years before you see your family back home as you wait for your permanent residency. My work permit is going to expire within six months. They gave me an opportunity to extend it, but I don’t want to be on a temporary stand. The true mental health resource is permanent residency. Only then will feelings of uncertainty release.”