After months of frustrating delays in processing their citizenship claims, some Victorians will be sworn in as Canadians in time to vote in the May 14 provincial election.
Bob McIntosh and his wife, Charli Winking, who moved to Victoria from the United States in 2007, were told last week they will be sworn in on April 26. They are part of a group of 325 people who will be sworn in, in six different ceremonies, over three days starting April 24.
“I think the fact that 325 people are getting their citizenship at one time indicates there has been a severe backup in the Victoria office,” said McIntosh. “I’m glad that so many people who have been waiting so long will have the chance to vote, though.”
McIntosh works for the provincial government and the Times Colonist, while his wife is a retired lawyer who now works in Greater Victoria Police Victim Services as a court support program co-ordinator. The couple are elated to know they’ll become Canadians in time to vote in their first election here.
“It’s the ultimate benefit of citizenship — it’s very important to me,” McIntosh said. “But I hope this means things are getting better in the Victoria office and that other people in the queue will have a shorter wait than we did.”
Their slow citizenship process — about 32 months by the time they are sworn in — almost came to a standstill last summer. That’s when the federal government shut down 19 regional Citizenship and Immigration Canada offices across Canada, as part of a budget measure to axe 19,200 jobs over three years, for a $5.2-billion cut in total federal spending.
The closures included a Victoria office with nine employees and a Nanaimo office with two.
“It was the worst timing for us,” McIntosh said. “Probably right about the time they would have opened ours [file], they closed the office and moved all files to Vancouver and they probably sat there in a box.”
Citizenship and Immigration Canada says that Victoria will be well served through regularly scheduled mobile services. “For years, we have been serving communities without a permanent CIC office in this way,” Immigration Canada spokeswoman Tracie LeBlanc said in an email.
Victoria NDP MP Murray Rankin says the slower processing times in Victoria and across Canada will turn away people at a time when Canada needs more skilled workers. McIntosh wrote to Rankin’s office for help in February.
The posted processing time for citizenship applications in Canada was 19 months last year, and 17 months in 2005. That processing time was pushed back to 21 months at the beginning of March. Just weeks later, it dropped to 23 months. That’s the estimated time it takes to process 80 per cent of applications once an acknowledgment letter has been received, according to Immigration Canada.
Bharadwaj Chandramouli, another working professional who has applied to become a Canadian citizen, is also disappointed with the process.
Born in India, Chandramouli came to Sidney in 2008 and applied for Canadian citizenship in May 2011. He had lived in the United States more than 10 years on student and work visas.
Recently, he found out that his citizenship test is scheduled for April 22.
“I moved to Canada from the U.S. to escape the stress and uncertainty that comes from being an immigrant without citizenship or permanency,” Chandramouli said.
The government maintains that processing times have increased because the demand for services and resources has increased.
There were more than 319,500 applications for citizenship to be processed at the end of September 2012, compared with just under 266,500 the year before, LeBlanc said. The volume exceeds the operational capacity of the department.
In a press conference in January, Liberal Citizenship and Immigration critic Kevin Lamoureux said dismal processing times for citizenship applications have become endemic on Minister Jason Kenney’s watch.
“Since Jason Kenney became minister, Canadians have witnessed a staggering decline in Citizenship and Immigration services, including over 300,000 permanent residents whose citizenship applications now sit in a backlog,” said Lamoureux.
“These processing times are totally unacceptable. We have thousands of potential citizens who are being denied the right to vote.”
Citizenship and Immigration Canada says it has made many improvements toward more timely processing — and has cracked down on residency and citizenship fraud, LeBlanc said.
The closure of the Citizenship and Immigration offices and Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada offices was projected to save $71.2 million and $13.1 million, respectively, by 2014-15, according to the department.
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